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New York state prepares to loosen medical marijuana laws

New York state prepares to loosen medical marijuana laws

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New York may soon join the ranks of states that allow medical marijuana. Following the first legal sale of recreational marijuana in the United States in over a century, governor Andrew Cuomo is set to announce an executive action that will loosen restrictions on marijuana, according to The New York Times. According to the report, the policy will be very strict: only 20 hospitals across the state will be granted permission to prescribe marijuana to those with cancer, glaucoma, or any other disease explicitly approved by the state's Department of Health.

The state currently has some of the tightest policies regarding weed — according to the Marijuana Policy Project the state has the second highest number of arrests per capita for charges related to the substance. While possession below 25 grams is not a criminal offense, if it's burned or otherwise viewable in public it's an arrestable offense. It's a shift for Governor Cuomo, who's been opposed to medical marijuana, though he's said before that he has an open mind on the matter. The issue has come to the fore recently with both Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational use of weed, and subsequent research showing that an estimated 58 percent of Americans support legalization.

Cuomo's decision is a very small step towards legalization, but it should open up use of marijuana when needed. By opting to use an executive action, Cuomo is bypassing the Republican-led state Senate, which has blocked medical marijuana bills in the past. The announcement is expected to come on Wednesday during the governor's State of the State address, but any new rules would take some time to take effect: the state would need to find a supplier of weed, as well as select which hospitals to bring into the program. The limited nature of the program speaks to Cuomo's view on the matter: a source tells The New York Times that it is a test designed to allow authorities to monitor the effects of allowing medical marijuana in the state.