ALBANY -- Some state legislators and patient advocates said Wednesday that new state regulations to dispense medical marijuana beginning in January are too restrictive and will keep sufferers from the full benefit of the therapy.
But the state Health Department said the regulations, released Tuesday, "strike the required balance" between serving patients and avoiding black-market marijuana sales.
The Compassionate Care Act, passed last year, will make marijuana available to people with specific illnesses including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal injuries, cancer and HIV/AIDS.
During an extensive public comment period about the regulations, patient advocates and supporters of legalizing marijuana had sought to make the drug available to more people.
Assembly Health Committee chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) said the regulations implementing the law "would deprive seriously ill patients of relief. One might wonder if the regulations were designed to prevent the system from operating at all."
But Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) urged patience as the state tries to create a new industry within the 18 months required by the law she sponsored.
"I would like people to keep in mind that when you look at states that have adopted medical marijuana, the average wait time from legislation passing to the first sale is 25 months," she said.
Savino said she wants the program to serve more people, but the department's responses to the public comments indicate that will be considered as demand grows.
In New York, laws are drafted by legislators, but rules on how to implement them are written by members of the governor's administration. After a public comment period, the rules can be adjusted based on new or compelling information, but still must reflect the intent of the laws.
The regulations released Tuesday prohibit sale of medical marijuana that can be smoked, allowing only forms that can be eaten or used in vapor. The drug must be prescribed by physicians and will be provided through only five organizations. It may only be dispensed by pharmacists at 20 sites statewide and whole plants can't be possessed.
In response to public comment, the department also emphasized the law's prohibition against consuming or providing food, drink or admitting "visitors" to sites where medical marijuana is dispensed. The regulations also prohibit consuming medical marijuana "in a public place."
Some patient advocates called the regulations "unworkable" and said thousands of patients will suffer needlessly because of them.
Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance, one of several advocates for medical marijuana, called it "baffling and downright unacceptable" for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to "ignore both the science on medical marijuana and the evidence on medical marijuana programs." Sayegh said Cuomo "is abandoning patients and families in need in pursuit of a war on drugs approach."
The advocates said they will return to lobby the legislature to make medical marijuana more accessible.
Cuomo long had rejected legalization of medical marijuana, saying he didn't want to create an easy way to legally possess and abuse a drug that is illegal under federal and state law.
The health department said it would consider some of the comments in drawing up future regulations. Officials said they may add nurse practitioners as legal prescribers and authorize more providers in coming years.