ANNAPOLIS – Dave Frieman wishes certain members of the Maryland House of Delegates would get sick.
If these lawmakers had to “go through what I went through, vomiting four or five straight days” as a result of chemotherapy, Frieman said, then they would vote for the medicinal use of marijuana.
Frieman is a cancer survivor-he was diagnosed nine years ago but is currently in remission – who has spoken in favor of the issue. Marijuana is sometimes used by cancer patients to counter the effects of chemotherapy and by AIDS sufferers, in both cases to stimulate the appetite and relieve nausea.
Frieman’s best efforts could not help a bill to eliminate state penalties on medicinal marijuana use with a doctor’s recommendation from being rejected by the House Judiciary Committee, 11-7, on March 10.
Delegate Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County, sponsored the bill after hearing the story of Darrell Putman, a Maryland resident who died of non- Hodgkins lymphoma in December and found it difficult to eat during his treatment.
While it looks dire, Murphy’s bill may not be history yet. He said he’ll try to attach it to other legislation. Plus, another bill would give voters a say in the matter. And, if all else fails, Murphy said he will resubmit the bill next year.
Delegate David Valderrama, D-Prince George’s, has sponsored a different bill to allow local jurisdictions to hold referendums on the issue.
Maryland law allows a referendum on local laws, if a petition is signed by 10 percent of the qualified voters who voted in the last gubernatorial race. The local government body would have to put the issue on the ballot of the next general election.
The House Judiciary Committee will hear Valderrama’s bill Tuesday.
That measure may give Murphy a chance to resuscitate his original bill by attaching it as an amendment to Valderrama’s.
This change would completely reverse the bill, allowing for medicinal marijuana use in the state, and authorizing local governments to then repeal the law through referendums.
Proponents of medicinal marijuana use like the idea of a voter referendum, as referendums and voter initiatives have contributed to legislation passing in other states.
Regardless of how this bill does, Murphy and other advocates will continue lobbying for the issue.
Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project said his organization will go after doctors who would testify favorably and constituents of opposed lawmakers in an attempt to change some votes before the bill reappears next year.
The organization is going to “crucify” committee members who killed the bill, by making their constituents aware of their vote, Kampia said.
Similar legislation recently passed by both houses of the Hawaii Legislature also died in committee last year, and there is still reason to be optimistic, said Chuck Thomas, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
The Marijuana Policy Project will try to change the minds of four key committee members: Delegates Emmett Burns Jr., D-Baltimore, Melany Griffith, D-Prince George’s, William Cole IV, D-Baltimore and Carol Petzold, D- Montgomery.
“I would love to support (this) legislation,” Cole said, but would be more comfortable if the federal government dealt with it first.
Cole said he intends to work with Murphy over the summer to make a better bill.
More work is needed, agreed another delegate.
“There’s something good in this bill, I just don’t think it is all the way there,” Petzold said.
Other lawmakers are against the whole idea of medicinal marijuana. Delegate John Giannetti Jr., D-Prince George’s, voted against the bill and said he would not use his position as a state legislator to legalize any drug.
“Given the choice to do that, I will not do that.” Giannetti said.
Kampia called Giannetti a “hopeless hypocrite” for voting against the bill after Giannetti admitted he has a family member who smoked marijuana for medicinal use and who had urged him to vote favorably.
Advocates for medicinal marijuana have at least one ally in the Senate, where the bill is untested.
Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, recently wrote an opinion letter in favor of medical marijuana to The Washington Post, calling for “mercy to the seriously ill.”
Kampia said his group will encourage Currie to sponsor an identical Senate bill next year.
Certainly the bill will come up in the House in 2001.
Murphy, who has received compliments from his colleagues about his passion for the issue, is considering using his own funds to sponsor television ads. Telling the story of dying patients who use marijuana to relieve their suffering will sway Maryland residents and their representatives to support the legislation, Murphy said.
“The people of Maryland are at least as compassionate as the people in other states that have passed similar legislation,” Murphy said.
A recent University of Maryland poll showed that popular support for the issue in Maryland is strong. The telephone poll, conducted between July and October 1999, found 73 percent of those surveyed agreed physicians should be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical use. Another 23 percent disagreed and 4 percent said they didn’t know.
If legislators don’t listen to their constituents who are making their support loud and clear, Frieman said, then the medicinal marijuana bill does not have a future in Maryland.
“I can talk myself blue in the face,” Frieman said. “It doesn’t do any good.”