Tom Cross, the Republican leader of the Illinois house, voted against a medical marijuana bill that failed 53-59 last December. It’s the same position he’d always taken on the issue.

But after talking with some gravely ill patients and their doctors and families, Cross recently made the surprising announcement that he was shifting his position to support a new medical marijuana measure. Sponsored by Democrat Lou Lang of Skokie, it would allow people with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and a couple dozen other debilitating conditions to use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

As Claire Thompson wrote in the Reader last year, the Illinois legislature first enacted a medical marijuana law in 1978, but because it never received the necessary go-ahead from the state police and Department of Human Services, it’s essentially lain dormant ever since.

The new bill doesn’t require authorization from those departments. With Cross’s support, it could pass the state house as soon as Wednesday or Thursday.

Since the Illinois senate approved a similar measure in 2009, house passage would almost guarantee that seriously ill people in Illinois will be able to legally access and use marijuana sometime soon.

I caught up with Cross on Tuesday and asked him to talk about the legislation.