Marijuana plants at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in...

Marijuana plants at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill., are nearly ready for harvest. Credit: AP / Seth Perlman

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday signed legislation to fast-track the distribution of medical marijuana to patients with serious illnesses through government-approved dispensaries, including one each in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In the action, Cuomo reversed some safeguards required in the Compassionate Care Act, passed in June, that were meant to ensure the system doesn't contribute to illegal marijuana use.

The medical marijuana emergency access law directs the state Health Department to register additional organizations to produce medical marijuana "as soon as practicable and issue new regulations that waive the tight controls that are the hallmark of the Compassionate Care Act."

That includes registering companies already manufacturing and distributing medical marijuana in other states, he said.

In October, Riverhead Town officials agreed tentatively to allow a medical marijuana dispensary to open at an oncology office. The pharmacy-like facility will be operated by Columbia Care NY LLC at 1333 E. Main St.

The Nassau County dispensary run by Bloomfield Industries is planned for a professional building at 2001 Marcus Ave., Lake Success.

Cuomo also ordered the Health Department to determine whether the limited number of dispensaries approved in June -- 20 statewide -- are enough.

The analysis will show if "additional manufacturers and dispensaries are necessary to improve access statewide," Cuomo said in a statement.

Statewide, five companies are approved to run dispensaries beginning Jan. 5. The emergency access law signed Wednesday allows for an earlier start if the system is certified by the state Health Department and State Police.

The Compassionate Care Act allows medical marijuana to be used to aid in the treatment of illnesses including cancer, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. Approved forms of medical marijuana include liquids and oil for vaporization or administration via inhaler as well as capsules that are taken orally, according to the state. Smoking is prohibited.

"This emergency access law is designed to get medicine to the neediest patients, including young children, as quickly as possible," said Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), a longtime sponsor of medical marijuana bills.'

"For the most seriously ill patients, even minor delays -- a day, a week, a month -- are life-changing," Gottfried said.

Speeding up medical marijuana

Key elements of the emergency medical marijuana access bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo:

A "new and entirely separate" emergency distribution program for patients with "progressive and degenerative" diseases covered by the Compassionate Care Act if delay would threaten the patients.

An order for the state Health Department to register more companies, including those already operating out of state, to produce medical marijuana for patients faster.

Waiving some tight controls in the Compassionate Care Act.

Comprehensive assessment to determine if more manufacturers and dispensaries are required to meet the needs of New Yorkers. Currently, the law allows five companies to operate 20 dispensaries statewide, including one each in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

The state's emergency program must conform with the federal regulations aimed at keeping the medication from being sold illegally.

Source: Office of the governor