New York will reportedly become the 21st US state to allow medical use of marijuana under an initiative governor Andrew Cuomo will unveil this week.
Cuomo plans to use administrative powers rather than legislative action to allow a limited number of hospitals to dispense marijuana for certain ailments. He is expected to formally announce his plans in his state of the state speech on Wednesday.
The New York Times first reported Cuomo's plan on Saturday. It represents an about-face by Cuomo, who had previously opposed medical marijuana.
Administration officials told the newspaper the medical marijuana policy will be more restrictive than in states like Colorado and California and subject to New York Health Department standards.
In states that permit medical marijuana, it is commonly prescribed for chronic pain, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, glaucoma and some other conditions. Although marijuana remains illegal in New York, possession of small amounts has been reduced to a low-level violation subject to a fine.
The Drug Policy Alliance, which was briefed on the Cuomo plan on Saturday, said it would be a huge change, but New York should still enact legislation authorising a state medical marijuana programme that has been blocked so far by the state senate's Republicans.
New York would join states from California to Massachusetts that allow medical marijuana use, bucking federal law, which still classifies pot as an illegal substance. Cuomo's decision would fall short of entirely legalising it.
Cuomo, 56, is up for re-election this year and medical marijuana has the support of 82 per cent of New York voters, according to a May poll by Siena College in New York. In his state of the state address last year, Cuomo backed a plan to decriminalise possession of up to 15 grammes of marijuana, part of a push by Democrats to reduce the number of drug arrests in New York City.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg