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ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York’s new medical marijuana law “gets us the best medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible.”

Cuomo, in a ceremonial bill-signing Monday in Manhattan, said there is “no doubt” that medical marijuana can help people with certain health conditions.

“If there is a medical advancement, we want to make sure we’re bringing it to New Yorkers,” said Cuomo, who until this year had blocked efforts to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

Cuomo signed the measure Saturday. New York becomes the 23rd state to have some form of medical marijuana.

The New York program will not be up and running for at least 18 months. It bans the sale of marijuana that can be smoked, limiting the sale to liquid and pill forms of the drug. It limits the kinds of diseases and conditions for which doctors can write prescriptions for patients to obtain the drug.

After a bidding and vetting process, the state will certify up to five companies to distribute the drug. The number of dispensing sites will be limited to 20 across the state.

It also permits a governor to unilaterally halt the program at a moment’s notice if problems develop and includes felony sanctions against doctors and pharmacists who abuse the dispensing of medical marijuana prescriptions.

It is unknown what the drug will cost. Health advocates say the price is likely to be considerably more than street values – the drug will come with a 7 percent excise tax – and that will tamp down illicit diversion of marijuana.

Critics have said that many insurers will not cover the drug’s costs and that it will be beyond the financial reach of some eligible patients who have cancer, AIDS or several other diseases and conditions.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com