Medical Marijuana Bill to be Heard by Maryland Senate Judiciary Committee

March 17, 2010
Annapolis, MD -- A proposed medical marijuana law for Maryland will be heard Thursday by the State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Senate Bill 627, introduced by Sen. Jamie Raskin (Montgomery County), is an identical companion bill to House Delegate Dr. Dan Morhaim's (D-Baltimore County) HB712. Patients, experts and advocates will all testify at Thursday's hearing. The House bill received no organized opposition at February's hearing, with the exception of restrictive provisions that advocates hope will be corrected in working groups.
What: Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing on medical marijuana bill SB627
When: Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 1pm
Where: Miller Senate Office Building, 2 East Wing, 11 Bladen St., Annapolis, Maryland
Who: Patients, experts and advocates, including Maryland residents living with cancer and HIV/AIDS, will testify on their experiences and expectations
"While we applaud the Maryland legislature for recognizing the need to better protect medical marijuana patients from harmful arrests and prosecutions," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "The bill falls too short of meeting the fundamental needs of patients." ASA and others have been working with the bill's sponsors seeking amendments that would make it more patient-focused. A welcome improvement over the state's current medical marijuana law, the Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act of 2003, advocates are still concerned about the proposed law's prohibition on patient cultivation and a 2-ounce possession limitation.

The new legislation proposes that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene administer the state’s medical marijuana program, including the licensing of patients, caregivers, large-scale growers, and distributors. Patients are restricted to 2-ounces of medical marijuana in a 30-day period, can only obtain it from a licensed caregiver or distributor, and cannot grow it themselves. All persons licensed by the state are protected from arrest and prosecution, as well as from "civil penalty or disciplinary action by a professional licensing board for the medical use of marijuana."

ASA and other advocates have vocalized strong opposition to certain provisions in the bill. Topping the list of concerns is the prohibition on self-cultivation and the 2-ounce possession limit, which is an insufficient quantity to treat some medical conditions. By comparison, other states allow patients to possess at least 8 ounces and as much as 48 ounces of dried marijuana. Advocates are also concerned about provisions restricting patients to one source of medical marijuana, and imposing onerous restrictions on providers, including fingerprint registration with the FBI, and a minimum requirement of $100,000 for proposals to cultivate.

"This bill assumes that patients will be served by one provider alone, and that all patients have the same medical needs," continued Woodson. "Not only do patients use different quantities of medical marijuana depending on the type and severity of their condition, but they also need the freedom to choose which strains work the best for them." According to advocates, prohibiting patients from more cheaply, and in many cases more conveniently, growing the strains of medical marijuana they need, threatens to undermine the legislation. Several states, including California, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Maine, have recognized the need for safe access and have implemented distribution programs that complement self-cultivation. New Jersey is the only medical marijuana state to prevent patients from self-cultivating, a restriction that advocates vehemently opposed.

The Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, Maryland's current medical marijuana law, allows patients to use a medical necessity or affirmative defense in court, but does not prevent them from being arrested and prosecuted. The court can impose a $100 fine even if a patient provides sufficient evidence of medical use. Several court cases involving Maryland patients have received mainstream media coverage over the past few months, illustrating the need to improve Maryland law. "We welcome reconsideration of this issue by Maryland legislators, but patients are counting on them to get it right this time," said Woodson.

Further information:

Senate version of Maryland’s proposed medical marijuana law, SB627: http://mlis.state.md.us/2010rs/bills/sb/sb0627f.pdf
ASA Legislative Memo re Maryland proposed law: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_Memo.pdf
Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_Medical_Marijuana_Law.pdf

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