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Maryland Governor, Health Secretary Support Medical Marijuana Bill

By Thomas H. Clarke March 9, 2013 Maryland Governor, Health Secretary Support Medical Marijuana Bill
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ANNAPOLIS, MD — Maryland lawmakers hearing testimony on three medical marijuana bills Friday found unexpected support endorsing the legislation: Maryland Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein.

During Friday’s hearing, Maryland Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein told lawmakers that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration supports passing medical marijuana legislation, a reversal in position from last year, when medical marijuana bills were defeated in the General Assembly.

He says that’s because the federal government has not brought charges against any state employees in other states who may have been involved with distributing medical marijuana.

The administration favors bills proposed by Delegate Dan Morhaim, HB1100 and HB1101, that would create a commission to oversee the program at academic medical centers.

However, medical marijuana advocates say that Del. Morhaim’s bills leave too much authority to an appointed commission similar to the workgroup set up by Morhaim’s HB308 in 2011.

A third proposal, House Bill 302, which would create clear rules for qualified patients and law enforcement, put in place a strictly regulated production and distribution system, and protect patients from housing and workplace discrimination, is favored by medical marijuana advocates.

HB302 would replace a bill passed in 2011 as a stop-gap measure while the state further studied the issue.

In 2011, the Maryland legislature passed SB 308, which removed a $100 fine for possession and laid out minimal protections for patients, but did not set up a means by which they could legally obtain medical marijuana nor protect them from arrest and prosecution.

Instead, SB308 commissioned an 18-member workgroup to develop a legislative proposal. The workgroup recommendations failed to fully address the needs of patients in Maryland and focused instead on legislation that would implement an unprecedented and untested distribution system that relies on “Academic Medical Centers,” something advocates say would leave the state vulnerable to a federal legal challenge.

Wanting to address patient needs more effectively, Del. Glenn introduced HB302.

“It only takes the sad experience of losing a loved one due to the ravages of cancer, not because of the illness itself, but simply because the person could no longer eat or drink, to make one realize that if we can help relieve suffering and give dignity and productivity back to patients, then we have a responsibility to do that in the State of Maryland,” said Del. Glenn in a prepared statement.

If passed, HB302 will require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to adopt regulations on or before September 1st of this year.

“We hope that the legislature will recognize the virtue of Delegate Glenn’s approach and pass HB302 as a sensible way to address medical marijuana in Maryland,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has been working with Del. Glenn to develop a comprehensive state law.

Maryland lawmakers are also looking at a bill to decriminalize possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, reducing the penalty to a fine-only offense, as well as a bill to legalize, regulate and tax the recreational use of marijuana by adults.

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