"There is no doubt that medical marijuana can help people," Cuomo said at Monday's signing ceremony in New York City.
"We are here to help people. And if there is a medical advancement, then we want to make sure that we're bringing it to New Yorkers."
New York's medical marijuana program, which will launch in roughly 18 months, will make available to patients smokeless forms of the drug, such as vaporizing oils and edibles. Smoking weed remains illegal in New York, even for medical purposes.
"It was almost oxymoronic that a health department would operate a program allowing smoking -- which they spend a very significant amount of their time trying to stop people from smoking," Cuomo told CBS New York. "Second, you don't need the smoking to get the benefits of the drugs."
The new legislation comes with harsh penalties for those who attempt to defraud it and a "fail safe" clause that would allow Cuomo to "suspend the program at any time on recommendation of either the State Police Superintendent or the Commissioner of Health if there is a risk to the public health or public safety."
"We have the medical benefits of marijuana. We also have public safety and public health concerns that are addressed."