ANNAPOLIS – Proponents of a bill decriminalizing the medical use of marijuana had their hopes dashed Friday when the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee killed the bill.
But hope for the bill remains in the House, where the Judiciary Committee put off voting on the measure Friday evening.
Delegate Donald Murphy, D-Baltimore County, introduced the medical marijuana bill last year, but it never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee. This year, Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, introduced an identical bill in the Senate.
“It was evident they didn’t want this bill, and they didn’t give it the time it deserved,” said Murphy of the Senate panel. “It will be back, and if it isn’t me, it will be one of the other 28 co-sponsors.”
Murphy originally asked committee members to hold the bill, which was defeated with a 7-3 vote. He said he is considering withdrawing it and reintroducing it next year.
“I don’t want people to get in the habit of voting against it,” said Murphy. “It won’t get a good vote (in the House).”
Murphy said he was surprised when the House committee delayed its vote on the bill.
While committee members agreed the bill was worthy of debate, they said it has too many loopholes.
“Even the supporters of this bill said it needs to be worked on,” said Sen. Leo Green, D-Prince George’s, who voted against the bill. “I was sorry to hear there were judges who were throwing people in jail for it. That’s the sad part.”
In Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll, said the bill protects the buyer and not the dealer.
“It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said Ferguson, who didn’t attend the voting session. “You can’t protect one side and not the other and have a consistent policy.”
In Maryland, a person who uses marijuana to treat ailments, such as nausea, loss of appetite, pain relief and reduction of muscle spasms with a doctor’s approval can be sent to prison and fined $1,000.
The bill allows medical pot users or their caregivers to possess seven plants and three ounces of usable marijuana without facing criminal penalties. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would be responsible for issuing identification cards to qualifying patients.
“It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card for cancer patients,” said Murphy. “What is so hard about that?”
Sens. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, Clarence Mitchell, D-Baltimore, and Perry Sfikas, D-Prince George’s, voted for a favorable committee report.
“I wouldn’t be in favor of this bill except for a neighbor who died (of cancer) last year,” said Forehand. “She had morphine, but it just knocked her out. If I was in that position, I might go out and (get marijuana) illegally, and I don’t want to have to do that.”
Eight states have medical marijuana laws: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington. Murphy is confident that Maryland will eventually follow suit.
“Like so many other things, we don’t often see the necessity after the first year,” said Murphy. “As more and more people become affected and see the need for the use of medical marijuana, more and more legislators will understand it as well.”