ANNAPOLIS, MD — In a special session Saturday, lawmakers in the Maryland House of Delegates voted to approve the second reading of a medical marijuana bill.
The bill now needs approval in a third reading on the floor of the House before it can advance to the Senate. There was little debate of the bill on the floor of the House prior to the vote.
House Bill 1101, introduced by Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore), an emergency room physician, would create the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission to oversee a medical marijuana program at academic medical research centers. The commission would be overseen by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Under the proposed bill, a medical marijuana program would be allowed only at an academic medical center, which is defined as a hospital that operates a medical residency program for physicians and conducts research that is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A participating medical center would be required to specify the medical conditions it would treat and the criteria by which patients would be allowed to participate.
Participating medical centers also would have to provide the state health department data on patients and caregivers on a daily basis. The department would also have to make the data available to law enforcement.
The commission overseeing the program could license no more than five medical marijuana growers for each approved program.
If House Bill 1101 becomes law, it is estimated that patients could begin participation in the medical marijuana program around July 2015.
The bill is one of three medical marijuana bills being considered by Maryland lawmakers this session. The others are HB302, which has been retained in committee for further study, and HB 1100, which was withdrawn after receiving an unfavorable report by the Health and Government Operations Committee.
House Bill 302, 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.
At a hearing earlier this month, 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.
Sharfstein opposed a similar medical marijuana measure last year, fearing state employees could face federal prosecution. This year’s HB 1101 was amended to note that a state employee would be eligible for reimbursement of legal fees in connection with a federal criminal investigation for good-faith work related to the program.
Under Maryland’s current law, a medical marijuana defense can be presented in court.
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.
Other marijuana related bills have advanced in Maryland this session. On Tuesday, the Maryland Senate voted 30-16 to decriminalize the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.
A proposal to legalize marijuana, House Bill 1453, sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City), remains in the House Judiciary Committee.