ANNAPOLIS – Maryland loosened laws affecting personal health this month by permitting a marijuana-for-medical-use court defense, allowing public nursing and easing access to pharmacy information for the public and Medicaid recipients.
The new laws, which took effect Oct. 1, mean that Maryland mothers no longer have to fear being asked to move to a bathroom to nurse their children. It is now against the law for anyone to restrict the right of a mother to breastfeed in any public or private location.
“This legislation was two years in the making,” said Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, after getting complaints from women who were asked to leave public places when nursing.
“We promote breastfeeding for all of our new moms,” said Hollinger, a nurse. “The benefits keep growing for the mom and the baby.”
Breastfed babies have lower rates of hospital admissions, ear infections, diarrhea, rashes, allergies and other medical problems according to the American Medical Association.
Two laws affect access to drugs: Pharmacists must now inform customers if a less expensive drug is available for a prescribed one; and pharmacy access has been increased for Medicaid recipients.
Medicaid recipients can call a hotline for information about prescriptions, drug reactions and cost.
The recipients and health care providers were informed of the new benefit and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will track the number and type of calls.
But the most controversial health care legislation involves the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The new law allows a person charged with possession of the substance to argue in court that it was for medical use. Success with that argument would reduce the penalties to a $100 fine and no jail time, instead of up to $1,000 and one year in jail.
“This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Cynthia Boersma, finance and policy counsel for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.
State law requires proof of a medical need, and does not shield the defendant from federal prosecution.
“You can be prosecuted federally and locally . . . there is no double jeopardy,” said Frank Meyer, Baltimore County assistant state attorney.
The marijuana-for-medical-use defense does not apply to a person caught with enough marijuana to distribute, or a repeat offender, Meyer added.
“It’s up to the defendant to generate the evidence,” said Meyer. “I expect that means having a doctor testify.”
Maryland State Police said the new law will have no impact on how it handles drug cases.
“They will be charged accordingly,” said Thornie Rouse, State Police spokesman. “It’s up to the courts to decide whether you need it for medical reasons or not.”