Maryland House Passes Watered Down Medical Marijuana Affirmative Defense Bill

April 11, 2011
Annapolis, MD -- The Maryland House voted 82-51 Saturday to pass medical marijuana legislation in an attempt to improve upon current law, the Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, which allows for a "medical necessity" defense but still results in a misdemeanor conviction and a $100 fine even for qualified patients. Senate Bill 308 had previously been a more robust bill, protecting qualified patients from arrest and prosecution and establishing a system of licensed cultivation and distribution, but was whittled down due to objections from the new administration's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and House committee members. The full senate must affirm changes to the bill by midnight tonight before it's sent to the Governor.

On March 24th, the full senate voted 41-6 to pass a version of SB 308 that would keep patients with "clear and convincing evidence" of a qualified medical condition from being criminally convicted and from sustaining a punitive fine. However, last week, when SB 308 got to the House Judiciary Committee, which has obstructed multiple efforts since 2003 to pass improved legislation, the bill underwent further amendments. For instance, the bill now has a one ounce limit -- SB 308 originally allowed for possession of up to 6 ounces -- and imposes up to a $100 fine even if found not guilty. The amendments also deny an affirmative defense to patients consuming their medication in public.

"It's shameful that the Maryland legislature wants to treat medical marijuana patients like criminals by condoning their arrest and using fines to punish their behavior," said Kristen Ford with Americans for Safe Access, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, which has been working with both House and Senate legislators to pass meaningful legislation. "Nevertheless, we will continue to work with the health department and the legislature to craft a more patient-friendly bill next year."

SB 308 requires DHMH to convene a Work Group to "develop a State-specific proposal, including draft legislation, for providing access to marijuana to patients in the State for medical purposes." A report to the legislature will be due by year's end, and the program must be up-and-running by January 2013. "This bare-bones bill is just a stop-gap measure," continued Ford. "Now the difficult work begins in finding consensus among disparate interests."

The House Judiciary and Government Operations Committees voted Thursday to pass SB 308, which was then sent to the House floor for a vote on Saturday. The full senate must now reaffirm the bill with amendments before the legislative deadline of midnight tonight. If the bill is reaffirmed by the full senate as expected, it will then go to Governor O'Malley for signature and take effect on June 1st.

Further information:
SB 308: http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/bills/sb/sb0308t.pdf
Amendments to SB 308: http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/amds/bil_0008/sb0308_76648701.pdf

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