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Medical Pot Deal in N.Y. Reached by Cuomo, Lawmakers

Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders struck a deal that has New York poised to become the 23rd U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana.

The accord reached today in Albany will set up a program for the cultivation and distribution of pot for diseases including cancer, Cuomo said at a press briefing in Albany. The bill is expected to be passed by lawmakers before the legislative session ends tonight.

The measure doesn’t allow the plant to be smoked; instead, the drug will be made available in food and as an oil that can be vaporized and inhaled.

“Medical marijuana has the capacity to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain and who are suffering,” Cuomo said. “It’s a difficult issue because there are also risks that have to be averted -- public health risks, public safety risks -- and we believe this bill strikes the right balance.”

Cuomo said in January that he would create a medical marijuana research program by reviving a 1980 law that allowed for distribution of marijuana through hospitals. That program was too narrow, according to lawmakers and activists. They backed a proposal requiring that plants be monitored from seed to sale by independent dispensaries and certified doctors who would prescribe the drug.

As the annual legislative session drew to a close in recent days, Cuomo, a 56-year-old Democrat running for re-election in November, engaged lawmakers in negotiations over the differences.

Two Decades

Efforts by some lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana in the third most-populous state have been under way for almost two decades. Eighty-three percent of New York voters support legalizing pot for medical purposes, according to a May 23 poll by the Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The bill allows the governor to shut down the program at the recommendation of the state police superintendent or the health commissioner. It won’t operate for at least 18 months.

The plant form of marijuana will continue to be illegal, Joseph D’Amico, the police superintendent, said at the press briefing.

“It doesn’t allow the line of lawful and unlawful to be clouded,” he said.

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