ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates initially said no to “medical marijuana,” but then made a U-turn and passed the bill that would minimize penalties for chronically ill patients caught using marijuana.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which had been awaiting House action, could vote today on the same bill. Last year, a medical marijuana bill passed in the House, but died in the Senate.
The bill failed during the initial House vote, 68-62, Tuesday morning, because it lacked a minimum majority of 71 votes.
However, the bill was held for reconsideration in the afternoon session, where eight delegates who missed the morning balloting voted in favor, allowing it to pass with a 73-62 vote.
The bill that passed was significantly changed from the original, which called for the Board of Physician Quality Assurance to oversee a program to issue identification cards to patients who used marijuana for medical purposes.
Now, the bill provides an opportunity for a person who is caught using marijuana to prove in court that use of the illegal drug was “of medical necessity.”
Proponents argued the bill has maintained its original intent – to help those suffering from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, or multiple sclerosis.
Cancer patients on chemotherapy suffer from nausea and weakness “all the time.” Once standard medications for those symptoms fail, marijuana may be appropriate as their last resort, said Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor and a physician.
“This bill is about compassion. This bill is about medical necessity. This is about the sick,” said Delegate Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll.
However, some medical marijuana proponents said this legislation is only a “partial victory.”
“While this bill is a step forward in our struggle to protect seriously ill Marylanders, it does not go far enough,” said Billy Rogers, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington.
“Under the bill, even if the court agrees that a patient was using medical marijuana legitimately, the patient will be punished with a ($100) fine,” he added.
Opponents said the amended version was a far cry from the original bill, and that the bill should provide better regulation of medical marijuana use, not just a court defense.
Delegate Brian Moe, D-Prince George’s, whose four amendments were rejected March 13 in the House, again pleaded with delegates to vote down the bill.
“This bill has nothing to do with medical marijuana,” Moe said.
Delegate Barry Glassman, R-Harford, called the bill “bad public policy.”
“We’re sending our law abiding citizens out to buy marijuana illegally,” Glassman said. “If the senators are using their heads, they won’t pass this bill.”