ANNAPOLIS – This is the year – again.
Delegate Don Murphy, R-Baltimore County, is hoping his medical marijuana bill will finally pass after failing twice.
With 53 co-sponsors, it would seem the odds are in his favor. But even he acknowledges the first hurdle will be to pass the House Judiciary Committee, where it was killed two years earlier.
With that in mind, Murphy and supporters of his medical marijuana bill came out in full force Wednesday at a Judiciary Committee hearing.
“I’m here today to give people hope who have this death sentence of AIDS and cancer,” Murphy said. “Who should decide what medication is right for these people? Doctors.”
If the bill passes, Maryland would join eight states with 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.
Last year, a version of the bill passed the House but was killed by a Senate committee. Lawmakers argued that the previous bills had too many loopholes.
Trying to address those concerns, the new bill mandates identification cards for medical marijuana users, instead of making them optional. The new version also prohibits a patient from growing marijuana outdoors, to help prevent theft. Also, the bill prevents caregivers from simultaneously serving multiple patients, an effort to prevent a caregiver from harvesting large quantities of the drug.
“This is one bill where I can’t think of any amendments that are needed,” said Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, who has introduced his own version of a medical marijuana bill just in case Murphy’s fails.
The mood of the hearing quickly turned serious when some of the delegates and others there gave personal accounts of their own or their loved ones battle with cancer.
Larry Silberman, 50, said he began using the drug after he underwent chemotherapy treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
The drug helped ease his pain and also helped develop his appetite, he said.
“It was far better to risk imprisonment and arrest than to die slowly wasting away,” Silberman said.
Despite the moving accounts, some lawmakers at the hearing said they feared passing the bill would overstep federal law.
“Are we putting our citizens at risk of federal prosecution?” asked Delegate Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County.
No one has been arrested for using small amounts of marijuana in the eight states with medical use laws, Murphy said.
“Some people don’t have time for Washington to stop screwing around,” said Delegate David Brinkley, R-Frederick, who has battled lymphoma.
Congress is considering a similar bill, Murphy said.
Murphy’s bill is one of three aimed at allowing patients’ use of the drug. Dembrow’s bill would allow a person arrested for marijuana possession to use medicinal purposes as a legal defense. The third bill, introduced by Delegate Thomas “Tim” Hutchins, R- Charles, would allow a judge to consider medical use when sentencing someone on a possession conviction.