ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders announced on Thursday that they had an agreement on a pilot program to provide access to medical marijuana to sick New Yorkers, making the state one of the largest to embrace the drug as medicine.
The announcement came after days of intense negotiations between the Legislature and Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, who had proffered a more restrictive system earlier this year that was roundly criticized as unworkable for the needs of thousands of potential patients.
The agreement included a major demand of the Cuomo administration: that no smoking of the drug would be permitted, though a variety of other options – including edibles and tinctures – would be. Patients would also be allowed to inhale if the drug was vaporized, similar to e-cigarettes.
“There are certainly significant medical benefits that can be garnered, at the same time, it’s a difficult issue because there are also risks that have to be averted,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We believe this bill strikes the right balance.”
The State Health Department would oversee the program, which would contain a “fail-safe” provision to “pull the plug” on it at any time, Mr. Cuomo said. He called that necessary to protect public health and public safety, adding that it “increases my comfort level a great deal.”
A small number of diseases would qualify patients for medical use, including AIDS, cancer, epilepsy and several serious degenerative conditions.
The department would have up to 18 months to establish regulations governing medical marijuana, including identifying the entities permitted to dispense it.
Supporters of the drug’s medical use hailed the agreement as a step forward, while criticizing the absence of smoking among the permitted ways of administering marijuana. Some supporters say that smoking the drug allows for a greater degree of control over dosage and efficacy.
“New York has finally done something significant for thousands of patients who are suffering and need relief now,” said Gabriel Sayegh, the New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbies for more liberal drug laws. But he added, “The decision about the mode of administration for any medication should be left up to doctors and their patients.”
The lawmakers who fought for the bill said the compromise was in the best interests of patients, particularly children for whom the drug could provide relief.
“You can’t stand in the way, because there’s other delivery methods that are effective,” said State Senator Diane J. Savino, the sponsor of that chamber’s bill, adding that the governor “gave a lot of that we wanted.”
As for the possibility that the program might be shut down by the governor — or future governors — at any time, Ms. Savino, a Democrat from Staten Island, said the tight “seed-to-sale” controls over the program would make such a shutdown highly unlikely.
“That will never happen,” she said.
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