ANNAPOLIS – When Darrell Putman underwent chemotherapy two years ago, he suffered an upset stomach and loss of appetite. The Frederick resident slowly began to deteriorate.
Then a friend recommended he try marijuana. Putman, always a conservative anti-drug activist, started smoking the drug regularly.
“It very definitely made a difference,” said Bill Hanrahan, a close friend of Putman, who died in December 1999. “He was able to get his appetite back. For the first time in months he actually had a good laugh. I believe he lived three months longer with the marijuana.”
But Putman was scared of being caught with marijuana, Hanrahan said.
It’s that kind of fear that Delegate Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County, hopes to address. With a team of supporters from both parties, Murphy will reintroduce legislation early next week to remove criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana if a physician recommended the drug.
Under Maryland law, a person who uses marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation is treated the same as a recreational drug user. Both can be sent to prison for up to a year and fined $1,000.
“It shouldn’t be the policy of this state to arrest people who are only trying to alleviate the pain of cancer and AIDS,” said Murphy.
Murphy proposed the bill, known as the Compassionate Use Act, last year and it received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. It met opposition from those saying the issue should be handled federally.
This time, Murphy is coming to the Legislature with twice as many co- sponsors and two major changes.
This year’s bill specifies a person may possess only an ounce of marijuana.
Additionally, a patient will be required to take a doctor’s recommendation to the local health department, which will be required to issue an identification card showing the person has the right to possess the drug for medical purposes.
Joyce Nalepka, president of America Cares in Silver Spring, an organization against legalizing drugs, has been campaigning against Murphy’s bill since last year. She said marijuana has no therapeutic benefits.
“We will be back to greet Mr. Murphy,” said Nalepka. “He, in our view, has had plenty of opportunity to understand the issue that marijuana is not medicine. In my view, marijuana is good for nothing.”
Eight states have passed laws similar to Murphy’s bill: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, and Washington. In California, there are 1,000 patients benefiting from medical marijuana and 450 doctors recommending it to patients.
“If you can go somewhere else and do it (smoke marijuana) legally, why would you stay here and subject yourself to incarceration?” Murphy asked. “These people shouldn’t be hassled by the government.”
Marijuana has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including nausea, loss of appetite, pain relief and reduction of muscle spasms.
According to a 1999 survey by the University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research, more than 70 percent of Maryland residents support the medical use of marijuana.
“This (the bill) isn’t creating something new,” said Chuck Thomas, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington. “All it’s doing is stopping the arrest of people who are already using medical marijuana.”