Gov. Andrew Cuomo to legalize medical marijuana in New York.

New York Set to Become 21st State to Allow Medical Marijuana

New York Set to Become 21st State to Allow Medical Marijuana

The Slatest
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Jan. 5 2014 11:47 AM

New York Set to Become 21st State to Allow Medical Marijuana

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Medical marijuana could be available in select New York hospitals by the end of the year

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

New York would become the latest state to crack open a door—albeit a tiny one—on medical marijuana under an executive action Gov. Andrew Cuomo is set to announce this week. Cuomo is likely to unveil the plan during Wednesday’s State of the State address in a move that represents a sharp shift for Cuomo, who has long resisted pressure to legalize marijuana, the New York Times was first to report.

The policy that Cuomo wants to implement would be far from the laws in states like Colorado or California, where it's easy to get medical marijuana for minor conditions. Instead, just 20 hospitals across the state would be allowed to prescribe marijuana “to patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases that meet standards to be set by the New York State Department of Health,” reports the New York Times.

CNN talks to State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, an advocate of changing the state’s stringent marijuana laws, who says members of the governor’s staff told him about the planned executive action on Saturday afternoon. Gotfried celebrated the move, saying that while it would be a “limited and cumbersome program” it is still “a very key interim step.”

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Cuomo had expressed opposition to the legalization of medical marijuana—a measure that has repeatedly passed the state Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats only to be rejected by the Republican-led Senate—as recently as April, notes USA Today. So, why did Cuomo change his mind? Well in part it may have been getting increasingly embarrassing that Republican Gov. Chris Christie was able to put into effect a limited medical marijuana program in neighboring New Jersey. Plus, it comes at a time when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is appearing to “overshadow Mr. Cuomo as the state’s leading progressive politician,” notes the Times.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.