WASHINGTON – Passage this month of initiatives in California and Arizona legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes has spurred an advocacy group to target Maryland and other states for similar measures.
But lawmakers in Annapolis say it is unlikely that bills legalizing marijuana for medical uses would pass in 1997.
“Good luck,” said state Sen. Leo Green, to those who would try to push marijuana reform. “I think it will go up in smoke,” said the vice chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
State Del. Joseph Vallario Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said if “doctors come in and say, `We want this,’ ” he probably would support it. But the Prince George’s County Democrat said he is not sure his colleagues would.
“I don’t know if it’s time for Maryland or not,” Vallario said.
State Del. Dana Dembrow, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said he favors allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana, and would even consider sponsoring such a measure, if someone convinced him of its urgency.
But, he said, he doubts his colleagues would back such a measure. “Most people have a knee-jerk reaction against [marijuana legalization], and they don’t want to hear about the medical uses. That includes the Maryland legislature.”
Robert Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project said he plans to make the case for medical marijuana to legislators in Maryland and 13 other states, including Oregon, Minnesota and Massachusetts.
The lobbying group’s co-founder and co-director said the political climate in Maryland makes it a fertile field for medical marijuana decriminalization.
“Maryland is one of the more liberal, tolerant states in the country,” Kampia said.
At least one prominent Marylander, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, a Democrat, has called since 1988 for a national debate on drug decriminalization.
“I think that the real message from California is that the average citizen is ready for a serious discussion about alternatives to the current war on drugs,” Schmoke said.
But past efforts to pass reform measures in Maryland have failed. In 1993, state Del. Richard Rynd, D-Baltimore County, introduced a resolution urging the president and Congress to “remedy federal policy [that] inhibits physicians from prescribing and patients from obtaining marijuana for legitimate medical applications.”
The bill was killed by the Environmental Matters Committee, on a 19-2 vote.
Doctors in eight states, including Virginia, can prescribe marijuana for certain ailments, although there is no legal supply for the patients to access.
The District for 15 years also has classified marijuana as a drug with “currently accepted medical use.” The D.C. law says marijuana cannot be distributed or dispensed other than for a medical purpose.
Sixteen states either recognize marijuana’s therapeutic use, allow for programs to study its therapeutic use or permit medical necessity to be used as a defense in court, according to a 1996 report issued by Kampia’s group.
California’s initiative, approved by voters by a 56-44 margin, allows doctors to recommend marijuana and patients to cultivate marijuana for relief from several illnesses, including glaucoma and AIDS.
The law approved by Arizona voters requires a doctor to document scientific research that marijuana will help the condition and obtain a written second opinion before prescribing marijuana.
The Justice Department has taken the position that it will continue to enforce federal laws, which prohibit marijuana possession. The department plans to continue prosecuting offenders of federal drug laws “on a case-by-case basis, as we always have,” said Gregory King, a department spokesman. -30-