Gov. Andrew Cuomo surprised New Yorkers this weekend when news leaked of his move in support of medical marijuana laws. The governor plans to bypass the state Legislature and issue an executive order allowing the use of medical pot, this Saturday.
The plan revolves around a little-known 1980 law that allows 20 hospitals in the state to prescribe marijuana for patients with cancer and glaucoma. Cuomo officially announced his shift in the State of the State speech Wednesday afternoon.
Twenty states already allow use of medical marijuana, Cuomo noted in his speech. "We will monitor the program to evaluate the effectiveness and the feasibly of a medical marijuana system."
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In an interview with CNBC, New York State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long accused Cuomo of appealing to his national liberal base. The initiative would be a "slippery slope" toward legalizing recreational marijuana, as Colorado and Washington state have done, he said.
"He's trying to catch up to Colorado," Long said Wednesday on "Squawk on the Street." "If Colorado didn't do what they did, he wouldn't be doing what he's doing today. … This time he wasn't the first out of the gate, but he certainly didn't want to be left behind."
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For the past several years, the state Senate has blocked medical marijuana bills that come to it from the Assembly for the past several years. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who has co-sponsored a medical marijuana bill that's stuck in the Legislature, said that having Cuomo behind medical marijuana would help move the issue forward.
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In essence, Cuomo's measure enacts a 1980 law that allows certain medical centers to provide marijuana to patients who have exhausted all other forms of treatment. Gottfried sees the step as a springboard to a more robust medical marijuana framework.
"It's terrific that as an interim step he's implementing this 1980 law," Gottfried said. "Now, that law is very limited and cumbersome, and we're hoping that he will work with the Legislature this year to enact a comprehensive and workable bill."
—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen. Follow him on Twitter at @jmorganteen and get the latest stories from "Squawk on the Street."