NEW YORK - New York's first medical marijuana dispensaries are opening their doors on Thursday, as the state launches one of the most conservative programs of its kind in the United States.
New York joins 22 other states and Washington, D.C., with comprehensive programs that allow the legal use of marijuana by cancer, AIDS and other patients certified by a physician.
The openings in New York come more than a year and a half after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation, known as the Compassionate Care Act, that allow patients to use marijuana to ease their symptoms. Proponents of medical marijuana had advocated for the move for years.
"Our program ensures the availability of pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana products for certified patients and establishes strict regulatory controls to protect public health and safety," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement.
Under the program, the state has licensed five organizations to manufacture and sell medical marijuana, with each allowed to operate four dispensaries. All of them are expected to be up and running by the end of the month.
Eight dispensaries across the state are scheduled to open on Thursday, in locations including New York City and Albany, health officials said.
The program is strictly limited to patients with very serious and terminal illnesses, including cancer, HIV and AIDS, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.