NEW YORK (Reuters) - Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers announced a deal on Thursday that would allow limited access to medical marijuana and make New York the 23rd U.S. state to offer some kind of availability of the drug for therapeutic purposes.
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The program, which would bar smoking of marijuana but allow it to be eaten or vaporized, would be regulated by the state's Department of Health under the deal. It includes a "fail-safe" provision that would allow the governor to stop the program at any time, Cuomo told a news conference in the state capital Albany.
The plan still needs final approval in the state legislature.
"I always supported the concept of if you can get the medical benefits of medical marijuana to a suffering patient, clearly you would want to do that," said Cuomo, a Democrat. "My trepidation has always been the risk. This bill virtually eliminates the risk."
Under the plan, the Health Department would license five private companies to produce and distribute marijuana through dispensaries.
"Production, manufacturing and distribution all has to happen within New York state boundaries," Dr. Howard Zucker, the state's acting health commissioner, told the news conference.
The legislation has been the subject of heated last-minute negotiations as New York's current legislative session draws to a close. Versions of the bill have been approved by the liberal state Assembly on multiple occasions since the 1990s.
The current bill must still be voted on by the state Senate, where Republicans have a power sharing agreement with a breakaway group of Democrats.
In May, Minnesota became the 22nd of the 50 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, to allow some sort of access to medical marijuana, according to the advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Will Dunham)
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