ANNAPOLIS – Sponsors of a bill to reduce criminal penalties for medical patients who use marijuana highlighted two changes from last year’s bill designed to increase legislative support, during a Thursday news conference.
Medical marijuana users would need an identification card from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and could possess no more than three mature plants, four immature plants and one ounce of usable marijuana per each mature plant under the new provisions of the bill.
“The only reasons that anyone offered last year to oppose the bill were those particular concerns,” said Chuck Thomas in a later interview. Thomas is the spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We listened very carefully to what those concerns were and, assuming that they were being honest, we made those changes and now they shouldn’t have any problem with it.”
The changes made little difference to Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R- Calvert, who opposed the bill during last year’s session.
“They have done little changes to the bill,” said O’Donnell. “They haven’t corrected the fatal flaws. The ID card doesn’t tell me that a doctor has prescribed it. That’s the problem with the bill.”
O’Donnell also said the Medical Society of Maryland, which represents 7,000 doctors, is opposed to the bill.
“I think it’s wrong for politicians to prescribe medication,” said O’Donnell. “Why would politicians want to force a medical treatment that the doctors themselves don’t want?”
Delegate Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County, introduced last year’s bill. This year, Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, introduced an identical bill in the Senate, marking the first time the medical marijuana bill has been introduced in both chambers.
“People who are suffering from cancer and AIDS shouldn’t have to worry that someone is going to arrest them,” said Murphy in an earlier interview. “It shouldn’t be the policy of this state to arrest people who are only trying to alleviate the pain of cancer and AIDS.”
In Maryland, a person who uses marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation can be sent to prison for up to year and fined $1,000.
“In many cases, patients are growing and using their own medical marijuana or getting it from a friend,” said Thomas. “The difference is right now they can get arrested.
If the law passes, they can’t be arrested and sent to prison.”
This year, Murphy’s bill has support from 25 legislators, up from eight last year.
The Senate bill has two co-sponsors.
“People are coming up to me and saying, `I have cancer, I have this and I understand what this is all about.'” said Murphy in an earlier interview. “When people have their own stories to tell, they relate to this and virtually every one of my constituents knows somebody or have suffered themselves.”
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.
In June, Hawaii’s Legislature passed a medical marijuana bill. Seven other states have passed laws similar to Murphy’s bill: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, and Washington.