ANNAPOLIS – With the failure of a bill to permit the medical use of marijuana likely this year, supportive lawmakers are trying to send the issue to voters.
Delegate David Valderrama, D-Prince George’s, submitted a referendum bill Monday to let voters decide the question. Because the bill was introduced after normal deadlines, the House must vote whether to allow it. That vote is scheduled today.
“We’re taking this bill directly to the people and telling the people to decide whether they want it or not,” said Valderrama. “I want to revive it and fight for it.”
If the voters get the issue, it likely will pass. A University of Maryland, College Park survey last year showed 73 percent of Marylanders believe terminally ill patients should be allowed to use marijuana without fear of arrest.
“That’s what encourages me,” said Valderrama, referring to the survey results. “The poll is very clear. They want it.”
No medical marijuana ballot initiative has ever failed. In the eight states with similar legislation, most passed with nearly 60 percent support.
“If the people actually have the chance to decide, we should be ensured a victory,” said Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project. “This is probably why the more heartless will oppose allowing the people to decide. Some people are just determined to have a relentless war on sick people.”
The original bill, sponsored by Delegate Don Murphy, R-Baltimore County, would allow medical marijuana users or their caregivers to possess seven plants and three ounces of usable marijuana. An identical bill was killed Friday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The House version is still pending in the Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote Thursday.
At last week’s Senate hearing, committee members said the bill did not protect the people who sell marijuana to the patients.
“There’s no virtue on the supply side unless the government is the supplier, and that’s a whole new ballgame,” said Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R- Carroll.
Meanwhile, under a bill Murphy submitted Monday, doctors who recommend marijuana to patients who are arrested would face the same penalties as their patients.
This latest act is in response to the Maryland State Medical Society, which opposes Murphy’s medical marijuana bill because it places doctors in the position of recommending illegal activity.
“Doctors can’t have it both ways,” said Murphy. “If they want to oppose a bill to protect their patients and privately endorse marijuana use, they should suffer the same consequences as the patient.”
Doctors sometimes recommend marijuana to their patients for the treatment of nausea, loss of appetite, pain relief and reduction of muscle spasms. However, even with a doctor’s approval, a person caught using the drug can be sent to prison and fined $1,000. Medical necessity cannot be used as a defense in court, said Thomas.
But Murphy plans to change his original bill to include a provision allowing the medical necessity argument in court. He also said he intends to cut some definitions of possession included in the original.
“I think it’s a shame that it (the bill) has to be that watered down,” Thomas said. “It’s a shame that we need to cater to their (opponents’) general intolerance of medical marijuana. I guess we have to do what we can to appease them.”
“When you’re desperate,” Murphy said, “you grasp at any ray of hope you can find.”