(File/Reuters) The governor is looking at legalizing marijuana in New York state. Credit: Reuters

In a surprise reversal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected this week to announce an executive action that would allow the limited use of medical marijuana by people who are seriously ill.

The governor will detail his plans in his state of the state speechon Wednesday. The executive order will bypass the legislature to create an interim medical marijuana program based on a 1980 law allowing the use of controlled substances in treating serious illnesses. The New York Times first reported the plansSaturday.

 

"The program will involve distributing medical marijuana through 20 hospitals statewide to patients who meet a narrow list of qualifying conditions," the Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement.

The decision would add New York to the growing list of states to lift restrictions on marijuana in some capacity, making it the 21st to do so. Cuomo's speech comes just a week after the drug became legal for recreational use in Colorado.

Local pro-legalization politicians hailed the report as a crucial step toward future legalization on a broader scale.

"I'm thrilled to learn that Gov. Cuomo's views on this issue are evolving," said Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger, who introducedthe Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in December, which sought to legalize andtax marijuana in a manner similar to the regulation of alcohol.

"Many of the states that have pursued medical marijuana are now moving toward full tax-and-regulate systems, which are ultimately more practical, fairer and better for taxpayers. But in the meantime, Gov. Cuomo's proposal is a very positive step."

In March of last year, state Sen. Diane Savino firstintroduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state under the Compassionate Care Act. At the time, Gov. Cuomo had stated his opposition tolegalizing marijuana for medical use.

Together with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, Savino sponsored December hearings on the bill, which has passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly four times but has yet to reach the more conservative Senate.

"The logjam in the Republican-controlled state Senate has made New York the only state in the Northeast without a medical marijuana program — so New Yorkers continue to suffer while residents in neighboring states can gain much-needed relief," said Gabriel Sayegh, the New York State Director for theDrug Policy Alliance.

"That’s not acceptable. We agree with Gov. Cuomo – New York should have the best medical marijuana program in the country, and we’re going to double our efforts to get the Senate to finally pass the Compassionate Care Act so we can deliver it to the governor for his signature.”

New Yorkers overwhelmingly support medical marijuana.A poll conducted in May 2013 by Siena College Research Institute and Drug Policy Alliance found that 82 percent of state and 79 percent of city registered voters support medical marijuana, with equal support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Follow Emily Johnson on Twitter @emilyjreports

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