Governor O'Malley Signs Bill as Maryland Becomes '15th and a Half' Medical Marijuana State

Annapolis, MD -- Governor O'Malley signed Senate Bill 308 into law yesterday, making Maryland the "15th and a half" medical marijuana state according to advocates. The Maryland legislature passed SB 308 in April attempting to improve upon the current Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, which allows for a "medical necessity" defense but can still result in a misdemeanor conviction and a $100 fine. The new law is aimed at removing the misdemeanor conviction, but qualified patients can still be forced to pay a punitive fine.

"The patient community welcome improvements to Maryland's medical marijuana law," said Kristen Ford, Field Director with Americans for Safe Access, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "But, because patients are still forced to undergo arrest and criminal prosecution and may sustain punitive fines, the law falls short of the basic protections offered in all other medical marijuana states."

SB 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. In order to get SB 308 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, where several similar bills had died over the past 7 years, legislators adopted several restrictive amendments.

For example, SB 308 now caps possession amounts at one ounce, down from 6 ounces in previous versions of the bill, and excludes patients above the one ounce limit from using the affirmative defense. 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 excluding some patients from an affirmative defense, still leaving them vulnerable to conviction and a punitive fine," continued Ford. "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 law is just a stop-gap measure," continued Ford. "Now the difficult work begins in finding consensus on a more comprehensive and protective bill."

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