ANNAPOLIS – It doesn’t look good for proponents of a bill to remove criminal penalties for ill patients who use pot with their doctor’sapproval.
The bill was heard Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee. Delegate Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County, introduced the bill last year, but itnever made it out of committee.
This year, Murphy came to the General Assembly with 17 more supportersand an identical bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Ulysses Currie,D-Prince George’s.
But in Wednesday’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing, some lawmakers said they have reservations about passing the medical marijuanabill because it exempts primary caregivers from criminal penalties ifthey provide marijuana to patients.
“I don’t see this bill going anywhere,” said Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll. “There’s no virtue on the supply side unless the government isthe supplier, and that’s a whole new ballgame.”
In Maryland, a person who uses marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s approval is treated the same as a recreational drug user. Bothcan be sent to prison for up to a year and fined $1,000.
Under the proposed bill, medical marijuana users or their caregiversmay possess seven plants and three ounces of usable marijuana. TheDepartment of Health and Mental Hygiene is responsible for issuingidentification cards to qualifying patients.
Marijuana has been used to treat a variety of ailments, includingnausea, loss of appetite, pain relief and reduction of muscle spasms.
“The only medication that has helped me survive is marijuana,” saidRobert Sutton of Anne Arundel County who suffers chronic back pain.”Heavy narcotics help with the pain but are highly addictive and turn meinto a vegetable. Marijuana helps my muscle spasms and chronic pain, butit still allows me to lead a productive life.”
In written testimony, the Maryland State Police said they face thorny enforcement issues if the proposed legislation is enacted.
“Nothing prohibits one person from serving as the caregiver formultiple patients or the charging of a fee for the caregiver’s services.This essentially results in the commercialization of the marijuanamanufacturing process.”
Robert Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the provision protecting caregivers is necessary because there are patients who are tooill to grow the plants.
“That’s very risky,” said Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, referring tohis concern that marijuana might be used around children. “It (marijuanain the home) is putting children at risk.”
While the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration have rejected the medical use of marijuana, eight stateshave passed laws similar to Murphy and Currie’s bill: Alaska, Arizona,California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington.
So far, Oregon’s law is working well, said Kelly Paige, the Oregonmedical marijuana program manager, who testified at the Senate hearing.
The two-year-old statewide program, housed under the Department of Human Services, has issued more than 3,500 registration cards to patientsand their caregivers. About 520 physicians participate in the program.
The Maryland State Medical Society, which represents more than 6,000 physicians, opposes the bill on the grounds that it places doctors in the position of recommending illegal activity. Other opponents argue the drughas no proven medical benefits.
But despite the committee’s reluctance to pass the medical marijuana measure, the bill has great public support. A 2000 University of Maryland, College Park survey showed 73 percent of those polled in Maryland believe terminally ill patients should be allowed to use marijuana without fearof arrest.
“I think it’s worthy of the debate of this committee,” said committee member Sen. Perry Sfikas, D-Baltimore, “if we can alleviate the sufferingof AIDS and cancer.”