ALBANY --New York has become the 23rd state to authorize marijuana as a medical treatment - though it will have one of the most restrictive programs in the country.
Under legislation signed into law on Saturday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, patients with one of 10 diseases will be able to obtain non-smokeable versions of the drug.
The law requires medical marijuana be ingested or vaporized. Detailed rules on how the drug would be administered will be worked out by the state health department, but distribution of actual plant material will be prohibited to discourage recreational use.
The law "gets us the best that medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible," Cuomo, a Democrat, said Monday at a ceremonial bill signing in New York City. "This is the smartest approach that any state has taken thus far."
Some advocates argue the law is too restrictive, however, and said they'll push lawmakers to expand it. Of the 23 states with medical marijuana laws, only one - Minnesota - prohibits the smokeable drug. Advocates also say the state should allow people with more kinds of illnesses to utilize the program.
"It's a first step and it's an important step that will improve thousands of peoples' lives," Karen O'Keefe, director of state operations at the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said of New York's law. "But it will leave others out."
The first medication isn't expected to be available for at least 18 months. Under the law, the state will approve and regulate up to five businesses authorized to grow and distribute the drug. The operators could each have up to four dispensaries statewide.
Patients would get prescriptions from physicians approved by the state to participate in the program. The approved conditions are AIDS, cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's Disease, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington's Disease.
Maryanne Houser said medical marijuana could help her daughter Amanda, who has a seizure disorder. Mother and daughter both spoke at Monday's ceremony. Houser said she's heard that cannabis oil has helped children with similar conditions in Colorado.
"We can't get the oil here and if we do it's illegal," she said. "We're waiting to get it the right way."
For Polly VanderWoude, the new law means a new chance for her daughter Olivia, 3, who has a rare disorder that causes daily, potentially deadly seizures. Olivia takes multiple medications and has an implanted electrical stimulator that sends pulses to her brain. VanderWoude says medical marijuana has helped children like Olivia by reducing seizures. VanderWoude brought Olivia - riding in a stroller - to Monday's bill signing.
The possibility her daughter could go just a day without a seizure would be "huge," VanderWoude said, before turning to Olivia to say: "You know we would do anything for you."