Almost two weeks after New York became the 23rd state to pass medical marijuana legislation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on Monday.

The final measure tightly regulates pot’s distribution and use to ensure that “medical marijuana is reserved only for patients with serious conditions and is dispensed and administered in a manner that protects public health and safety,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

A quick hit


In a signing ceremony, Cuomo praised the Legislature but singled out Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) for trying 17 years to pass a version of this law.

“That is a long time to carry a bill,” said Cuomo. “It gets heavy after 17 years.”

Since 2005, the Assembly, dominated by Democrats, had passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana only to have it die in the state Senate—until this session. In part, the legislation reached Cuomo’s desk because of the power-sharing agreement between Senate co-leader Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, and state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Center), the head of the Republican caucus.

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Skelos had blocked Gottfried’s previous bills but he no longer held a clear majority—and the Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), was a member of Klein’s conference. As the session wound down to the wire, the fate of the bill was uncertain until the sponsors bowed to Cuomo’s insistence that the medical marijuana not be smoked.

Who gets it?


The new law sets up a rigorous process for physicians and patients.

To get a prescription for medical marijuana, the patient must first receive a certification from a licensed practitioner who has to register with the Department of Health and who is qualified to treat the patient’s serious condition. The law restricts which conditions are covered: cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication on intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s Disease, or “as added by the DOH commissioner,” according to the press release.

Certified patients will receive a registry identification card. The medical marijuana will be dispensed in a 30-day maximum supply—and the patient must keep it in its original packaging.

How do you get it?


Organizations that want to manufacture medical marijuana or distribute it within the state must also register with the Health Department, which so far is limiting the competition to five groups that can each run up to four dispensaries statewide.

They may have to wait a while. The registration identifications for patients and organizations “will be issued no later than 18 months after the effective date of the bill,” unless the DOH or the State Police “certifies that the new program could not be implemented in accordance with public health and safety interests.”

What’s the state’s cut?


As for the economic benefit to the state, every sale of medical marijuana by a registered organization to a certified patient or a designated caregiver comes with a 7-percent excise tax. The proceeds will be divided among the county in which the medical pot was made, the county in which it was dispensed (each getting 22.5 percent), with 5 percent to the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and another 5 percent to the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

What happens if you get busted


Patients and physicians who abuse the certification program face a Class E felony, and those recipients who sell or trade the pot beyond the scope of their treatment could be slapped with a misdemeanor.


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Spencer Rumsey, the Long Island Press’ senior editor, has worked on dailies, weeklies and monthlies, including New York Newsday and the New York Post, the East Village Eye and the supermarket tabloid Star Magazine. Starting at the Press in 2010, he’s written award-winning stories on planning, politics and policy, to name a few topics, and he’s taken on a wide range of targets in his Press blog, Rumsey Punch.