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New York will likely be the 23rd state to OK medical marijuana—just don’t smoke it

Senate co-leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, left, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, announced the deal on Thursday. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York lawmakers have reached an agreement to make theirs the 23rd state to approve marijuana for medicinal use. But there’s a significant catch: you can’t smoke it.

The most common method of marijuana ingestion is banned under the deal announced on Thursday afternoon by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and state officials. The agreement would allow those with serious conditions access to marijuana, but with registration and consumption limits. It would expire after seven years.

“Medical Marijuana has the possibility to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in pain and who are suffering and are in desperate need of a treatment that can provide relief,” Cuomo said. “Some of these cases are the most heart wrenching cases you’ve ever heard. You’re dealing with children with epilepsy, babies, so there are certainly significant medical benefits that can be garnered.” But, he added, public health and public safety must be considered. As a result, smoking will not be allowed and only doctors will administer the program.

The patchwork of state medical marijuana laws are dramatically different in their restrictions.

Minnesota passed a restrictive medical marijuana law last month that similarly bans smoking of the drug, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Monday signed a very limited law, which — as in seven other states — only allows for products with low levels of its active chemical THC, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. (Florida and the seven others are not included in the overall count of those that allow medical marijuana.)

States also differ greatly on the diseases that qualify a patient for access to the drug. Just three states allow marijuana for arthritis, anorexia or Parkinson’s disease, six for post-traumatic stress disorder, 20 for glaucoma and HIV and 22 for AIDS and cancer, according to LawAtlas, a project of Public Health Law Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. New York’s law would grant access to marijuana to those suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s Disease, and other diseases.

Currently 41 percent of the U.S. population lives in states that allow medical marijuana. New York would be the second-largest state to approve the drug for medicinal use, behind California, bringing that total to nearly 47 percent. California became the first state to allow medical marijuana 18 years ago.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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