marijuanaIn a surprise move, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has approved a measure that would provide expedited access to medical marijuana for terminally ill patients.

The approval of the legislation comes as the state’s medical marijuana program is due to come on line by the start of 2016, though whether the five companies that have received licenses to operate, grow and dispense the drug can meet the deadline has been called in question.

The Cuomo administration had initially applied for a waiver from the Department of Justice to import out-of-state medical grade marijuana for the program, but state officials later acknowledged the waiver had been denied.

It remains unclear, at the moment, as to where New York will be procuring the marijuana.

But in the signing statement, the governor indicated companies that plan to operate in New York can import medical marijuana should they already be in business in other states that have medical marijuana programs.

FOR MORE, CHECK OUT TWC NEWS’S FOUR-PART SERIES ON THE COMING MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROGRAM. 

At the same time, the program would require the Department of Health to register additional organizations to produce medical marijuana as soon as possible and issue new regulations “that waive tight controls that are the hallmark of the Compassionate Care Act.”

In his signing statement, Cuomo said the Department of Health is being directed to enact the expedited program using directives laid down by the Department of Justice when it comes to marijuana enforcement.

“By taking this necessary step, I am ensuring that the new expedited program will not jeopardize the continued viability of the State’s existing medical marijuana program,” Cuomo wrote in the statement. “I am also ensuring that the Department retains its ability to strictly regulate product manufacturing and inventory, prevent diversion of marijuana, and properly identify patients and caregivers lawfully possessing medical marijuana.”

The move is sure to be cheered by advocates for medical marijuana as well as state lawmakers who pushed for the expedited program for patients.

In a statement, the bill’s main Assembly sponsor, Manhattan lawmaker Richard Gottfried, praised the move.

“Governor Cuomo has done a very good deed for seriously ill patients and their families by signing the Medical Marijuana Expedited Access Bill,” Gottfried said, adding, “I know the Health Department is working hard to get the medical marijuana law up and running on schedule, but glitches happen. This emergency access law is designed to get medicine to the neediest patients, including young children, as quickly as possible.”

After displaying initial skepticism over a long-proposed medical marijuana program, Cuomo negotiated with state lawmakers in 2014 a program that was tightly controlled by the executive branch, with regulations and oversight flowing from the state Department of Health.

The number of illnesses covered under medical marijuana is limited to terminal illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDs and Lou Gehrig’s disease as well as severe seizure disorders.

The state’s medical marijuana program will not allow for a version of the drug that can be smoked and Cuomo has reserved the authority to pull the plug on the program should problems arise.

At the same time, questions have arisen as to whether patients will be able to connect with doctors who are willing to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. Most forms of insurance, including federally provided programs like Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover prescription costs.

Approval Messages #5 #6 by Nick Reisman