Maryland medical marijuana inspires excitement, some concern

January 26, 2010

Ryan Clark,

A medical marijuana bill that would provide treatment to eligible Marylanders was met with both appreciation and criticism by local activist groups.

During a Jan. 26 press conference, Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, assured that marijuana would simply be "another tool in the tool box" for physicians.

The bipartisan legislation would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, making it less restricted and available for further research.

Also, It would allow eligible patients to receive medical marijuana, as prescribed by physicians with whom they share an ongoing relationship.

Unlike some other states' laws, the bill does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana, but instead designates state run and regulated centers where the drugs can be either produced or distributed. Morhaim stated that the bill would be "the most narrow and constrained of any."

Damien Nichols, Member Coordinator for MD Safe Access, a grassroots organization campaigning for medical cannabis, stated that he was "thrilled" with how the bill turned out. He acknowledged that, if passed, the bill "would provide a significant improvement in quality of life for thousands of Maryland residents."

"It's not perfect. But no existing medical marijuana law is. It's conservative. It's very tightly controlled. But at the same time, it gives patients reasonable access to medical marijuana. "

However, the bill does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana, and this could be a cause for concern. "An August 2009 American Journal of Medicine report showed that medical bills prompted more than 60 percent of US bankruptcies. With proper regulations, there is no reason people shouldn't have the right to grow an herb that can treat their ailments and lower their medical expenses at the same time," said Nichols.

Americans for Safe Access, a national organization pushing for medical marijuana usage and research, responded with similar doubts, "we sincerely appreciate the time and energy Del. Morhaim has invested in drafting this legislation; however, we are concerned that it may fall short of the legitimate needs of patients in the community."

"This isn't an ideological issue, it's a compassion issue," argued Senator David Brinkley, R-Frederick, who is also backing the bill.

Brinkley, a cancer survivor, believes the option should at least be on the table. "If ever we reach the threshold of what medicine can deliver, [we should] ensure there's some type of alternative treatment."

Maryland would be the latest in a line of at least 14 states that have legalized medical marijuana, the most recent being New Jersey. Both Virginia and Washington, D.C., have medical marijuana bills in the works.

Based on numbers gathered from states that have passed similar bills, Morhaim estimates that approximately 1000 people per month could register for eligibility, if the bill were to be passed.

Morhaim plans to file the bill next week.

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