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Marijuana bills move forward

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Published on: Thursday, March 28, 2013

By Brian Compere

ANNAPOLIS -As the Maryland General Assembly nears the end of its current session, the picture for marijuana in the state is becoming clearer now two bills to loosen restrictions on the drug have advanced and another has failed.

Legislators considered two bills loosening restrictions on marijuana for medical uses in the past week. One of these bills, HB302, would have removed the threat of legal action against individuals using the drug for approved medicinal purposes, while the other, HB1101, would allow academic medical centers to administer marijuana already prescribed by doctors to patients as part of research programs.

While Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), a sponsor of HB302, withdrew the bill after the Health and Government Operations committee issued an unfavorable report of it, HB1101 passed in the Maryland House on a 108-28 vote and will move on to the Maryland Senate.

Glenn said the state administration was unwilling to allow both bills to move forward, so Gov. Martin O’Malley deferred to Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Joshua Sharfstein’s decision to only support HB1101.

According to testimony from Sharfstein, eleven members of a 2011 workgroup – including the oncologist, rehabilitation medicine specialist and addiction medicine specialist on the panel – convened in 2011 to evaluate medical marijuana supported HB1101.

Glenn said she is disappointed the state would support the more conservative of the two bills, but she is also “ecstatic” that there will be progress on the issue regardless.

“I absolutely feel that I could have had the votes to move House Bill 302 were it not for the fact that the administration decided to get behind 1101,” she said. “But I want to look at this as a positive approach in terms of at least for the first time in the state of Maryland we will be supporting a medical marijuana program. And that’s progress.”

Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed that HB1101 represents substantial progress even though it doesn’t offer the same broad effects HB302 would.

Del. Dan Morhaim (D-BaltimoreCounty), a sponsor of HB1101, said Glenn was the first to co-sponsor his bill. Glenn said she is happy with the progress HB1101 represents, but she also said that if the bill becomes law, she would likely wait until the 2015 session to evaluate the progress of the bill’s implementation and evaluate reintroducing her bill if HB1101 proves to be unsuccessful in reality.

Glenn said she expects the bill to pass in the senate, while Morhaim said he does not comment on expectations.

The two delegates take different approaches to medical marijuana: Glenn was initially motivated to pursue the issue when her mother and brother-in-law both died because they suffered from illnesses that severely limited their ability to eat, she said. Doctors wanted to prescribe medical marijuana to help improve their appetites, she said, but that was not possible.

Meanwhile, Morhaim said that as the only physician in the General Assembly, his goal is to “get the sick and dying off the battlefield” of what he called the war on drugs. He added that the use of medical marijuana is an individual decision based on clinical circumstances and there still needs to be a doctor-patient relationship.

“Marijuana’s another tool. It’s not perfect, it’s not benign,” he said. “Most medicines come from plants, it’s another plant, it can be used and it should be used in an appropriate doctor-patient relationship. That’s how I see it, and that’s what the bill lays it out, in a very defined and controlled manner.”

Both delegates said the factor that most effectively developed their interest in the issue was testimony of individuals with varied backgrounds who were personally affected by medical situations that might have been made better through medical marijuana. Morhaim said it was important to recognize they can be helped and are patients, not criminals.

Another bill, SB297, would change possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal offense with maximum penalties of a year in prison and a $1,000 fine to a civil offense with a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, progressed as well with a 30-16 vote in the Senate that moves the bill to the House.

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