WASHINGTON- Maryland’s recent medical-marijuana law is the latest of several drug policy reforms that have made the state one of the leaders in relaxing harsh drug laws, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report by the Drug Policy Alliance said that Maryland has also voted to restore voting rights to felons who complete sentences for a first-time drug offense, to ban racial profiling and to allow research into industrial uses for hemp. The state has also opted out of a federal welfare ban for former drug offenders.
The alliance supports alternative ways of regulating drug policies, and blames the federal government for failed policies to combat the war on drugs. Its report praised states, like Maryland, that had passed three or more reform measures since 1996.
“We see a tremendous movement across the nation,” said Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance. He said the bipartisan movement toward reform was “unthinkable a few years ago.”
But federal officials do not agree that that movement is headed in the right direction.
Tom Riley, public affairs director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that the federal government spends millions of dollars every year studying drugs, and has found no scientific evidence to support health benefits of “smoked marijuana.”
“We have an obligation to follow science, not mythology,” Riley said. “They’re using sick people to advance their own agendas.”
Maryland became one of only two East Coast states that support medical marijuana, after Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed a bill last spring that protects patients with serious illnesses — like cancer or AIDS — from possession charges if they are caught using the drug for medical purposes.
Although the bill does not fully legalize medical marijuana, it is the first time a Republican governor has signed a bill allowing some leeway in the way the drug is regulated.
“Medical marijuana has come a long way politically,” said Donald Murphy, a former Republican delegate from Baltimore County, the driving force behind the bill in Annapolis. He noted that support for medical marijuana is on the rise and is no longer solely a Democratic issue.
“It’s very encouraging, and I see a bright future for drug policies, because it’s clearly going to be very bipartisan,” Murphy said.