Senate Committee to Debate Maryland Medical Marijuana Bill

March 02, 2011
Annapolis, MD -- The Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold a hearing on medical marijuana bill SB 308 on Thursday, March 3rd at 1pm. SB 308, which protects patients from arrest and prosecution, and sets up a state-run production and distribution system, is very similar to a bill passed by the full senate last year. At a House hearing Monday on its companion bill, several patients and the former director of the New Mexico medical marijuana program testified about the need for patient cultivation, a right that has been excluded so far from both the House and Senate proposals.

At Monday's hearing before the Health and Government Operations (HGO) and Judiciary Committees, Maryland's House Deputy Majority Whip, Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), introduced an amendment that would allow patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana. However, the new administration's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) threw a wrench into House plans when it objected to the bill and estimated its net fiscal impact to be be more than $7 million, a dramatic and questionable increase from last year's prediction of less than $700,000 for an almost identical bill.
What: Medical marijuana bill SB 308 will be heard by the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee
Who: Patients, advocates and experts, including the former director of the New Mexico medical marijuana program will testify
When: Thursday, March 3rd at 1pm
Where: Miller Senate Office Building, 11 Bladen St., Annapolis, Maryland
SB 308 was introduced on February 2nd by Senators Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), David Brinkley (R-Frederick & Carroll Counties) and others. Despite the lack of a sponsor for an amendment similar to Delegate Glenn's, patients are still going to testify Thursday for the right to cultivate their own medication. Barry Considine, a medical marijuana patient from Halethorpe, Maryland, questioned the Senate's exclusion of patient cultivation: "I know which strain of marijuana works best for my particular medical condition, so why would I be denied the right to grow that medicine myself, especially at a price I can afford?"

In addition to increasing by 10 times the estimated cost of the program using questionable rationales, this year's Fiscal Note from the Department of Legislative Services also said it would take at least 3 years to implement. "Maryland patients want access to medical marijuana and a program that will provide protections from arrest and prosecution now, not three years from now," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "Legislators have a chance to pass a bill this year that may not meet all of their expectations, but may stand a chance to meet some of the basic needs of patients."

In anticipation of the House and Senate hearings, ASA issued a brief report on the importance and necessity of patient cultivation. The report points legislators to certain needs that would go unmet if patients were prevented from cultivating, such as affordability, reliability, consistency and quality. Centralized distribution facilities, on which the Maryland bill exclusively relies, are often out of reach for rural and low-income patients and remain vulnerable to federal interference and closures. New Jersey is the only state out of 15 that has passed a law denying patients the right to cultivate, and now more than a year later not a single New Jersey patient has access to legal medical marijuana.

The current legislation would replace the 2003 Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, Maryland's current medical marijuana law, which 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. Yet, even though Maryland patients are not currently free from arrest and prosecution, patient cultivation is practiced across the state with little-to-no abuse.

Further information:
Text of SB 308: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_SB308.pdf
Fiscal Note 2010 (less than $700,000): http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_Fiscal_Note_2010.pdf
Fiscal Note 2011 (more than $7 million): http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/fnotes/bil_0001/hb0291.pdf
ASA Report on Need for Patient Cultivation: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Patient_Cultivation_Report.pdf

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