ANNAPOLIS – Delegate Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County, and the more than 50 co-sponsors to his new-to-this-session medical marijuana bill are hoping it will pass this session after failing on two previous attempts.
The measure has strong support in the House of Delegates, but it may be up for a tougher battle if it reaches the Senate.
Murphy and several other delegates from both parties pledged their support for the bill during a news conference Thursday.
“We’re here today to declare victory already,” Murphy said, while acknowledging the Senate may be more difficult.
“We’re going to need some momentum,” he said.
Murphy heralded the fact that Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, and Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County, are both sponsors.
Morhaim is a doctor, and Nathan-Pulliam a nurse.
“I’m on this bill to help relieve (terminally-ill patients’) pain and suffering during their last few months,” Morhaim said. Under the legislation, patients would have to apply for a registry identification card from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that would give them immunity from prosecution for possessing or growing small amounts of marijuana for medical use.
Eight states have similar laws: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. Seven others are considering legislation: Vermont, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Iowa, Minnesota and New York.
Maryland’s previous efforts were killed by lawmakers fearful that the bills contained too many loopholes.
Trying to address those concerns, the new bill mandates identification cards, instead of making them optional. The new version also prohibits a patient from growing marijuana, the better to stop thieves. Also, the bill restricts caregivers from simultaneously serving multiple patients, in effort to prevent a caregiver from harvesting large quantities of the drug.
Maryland voters have supported medical marijuana use in recent opinion surveys, said Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, sponsor of a companion bill.
Murphy’s bill is just one of three bills aimed at allowing patients’ use of the drug. Dembrow’s measure would allow a person arrested for marijuana possession to use medicinal purposes as a legal defense.
The third bill in the series, which is being introduced by Delegate Thomas “Tim” Hutchins, R-Charles, would allow a judge to consider medical use when sentencing someone on a possession conviction.
“I’m probably the most unusual person to be standing here because I’m the only person who’s arrested people for this,” said Hutchins, a former police officer.
Introducing three bills, Dembrow said, gives one a better chance of passage.
“This is sort of a backup,” Dembrow said.
Even if the measure fails, Murphy has adopted a little-engine-that-could approach. If it’s struck down, he plans to try, try again.
“If we can’t convince them now, maybe we can in November,” he said. “The problem is certainty. After the governor’s redistricting map, I may not be here in a year.”