Annapolis, MD -- The Maryland State Senate voted 41-6 to pass a bill today that would give an affirmative defense to qualified patients who are arrested and prosecuted for possessing or growing medical marijuana. Senate Bill 308 amends the 2003 Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, which already allows for a "medical necessity" defense but still results in a misdemeanor conviction and a $100 fine. The new Senate legislation would keep patients with "clear and convincing evidence" from being convicted and from sustaining a punitive fine.
SB 308 was amended earlier this month when its House companion bill stalled in committee due to opposition from the new administration's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). Both houses of the state legislature were prepared to pass a comprehensive bill this year that would have protected patients from arrest and prosecution altogether, and would have established a state-run production and distribution system. However, the new DHMH Director estimated the cost of such a program at more than $7 million over a 5-year period, despite a fiscal impact assessment of less than 1/10th of that amount for an almost identical bill debated last year. Advocates called this year's fiscal impact extremely inflated, based on an inaccurate needs assessment.
"Rather than endure another failed attempt to pass meaningful medical marijuana policy in Maryland, patients have instead decided to support this stopgap measure," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "It's not ideal, but the bill will help patients avoid what is now a guaranteed conviction if arrested." ASA worked with State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) to craft the amended version of SB 308, which also includes language to study the elements of a comprehensive policy change with the aim of passing such legislation next year.
SB 308 will now proceed to the House of Delegates for a floor vote and, if passed, will then go to Governor O'Malley for signature. Patient advocates have vowed to pass more comprehensive legislation next year by working with DHMH and the legislature to design a policy that not only protects patients from arrest and prosecution, but also establishes a system of licensed cultivation and distribution.
Text of SB 308: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_SB308_Amended.pdf