Oaks' bill would allow marijuana for medical uses

March 13, 2007

Sharahn D. Boykin, Capital News Service (MD)

Before her arrest three years ago, the first thing Leslie Miller did when she woke up each morning was reach for her bong and take four or five tokes of marijuana.

She wasn't trying to get high, but simply to make it through the day without the back spasms and debilitating headaches that she said have tormented her since a serious car accident nearly 20 years ago.

"You don't get high," Miller said of her use of the drug, "and at the same time you feel better because you're not taking a narcotic."

The 49-year-old Chestertown mother of two was in Annapolis this week to support legislation introduced by a north Baltmore-area legislator that would make Maryland the 12th state to allow patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, would allow patients who qualify to grow marijuana legally.

"I'm here because I feel for people that need this treatment," Oaks told members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Miller is hoping such a law will spare others from having the arrest and conviction on drug charges she carries on her record. Because she is on probation from those charges, Miller said she no longer uses marijuana.

Although medical opinion is divided on whether the chemical ingredients in marijuana actually have therapeutic or medicinal value, the federal government has no doubts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for medical uses, and the White House has opposed legislation that would allow it. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can still ban possession of the drug in states that have eliminated sanctions for its use.

"This is poor public policy, poor law and poor science," Dr. Bertha Madras, deputy director for demand eduction in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in an interview.

Under state law, people who use the drug medicinally can be arrested, prosecuted for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia, or fined up to $100.

Should the legislation pass, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would issue picture identification cards to patients who qualify to use medical marijuana.

The proposal also exempts caregivers from arrests, penalties and disciplinary action.

"This is recognizing the beneficial use of marijuana and the fact that some people need it," said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden. "We understand what the federal government is saying, but we also recognize the federal government is not going to spend any energy on a person who has six little plants."

The proposed bill would allow people to grow up to 12 marijuana plants and own 2.5 ounces of "usable marijuana." State police say each marijuana plant yields a pound or two of loose marijuana.

Opponents of the proposal argue that there's a lack of evidence that the drug has therapeutic effects and are concerned about potential abuse.

"The bill is so open-ended that it is hazardous to people," Madras said. "Many people suffer from lower back pain and aches from joints. You realize how open to abuse that can be for the public."

Such a policy could result in a number of people telling their doctor that nothing else works, just to get the drug, Madras said.

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