ANNAPOLIS, Maryland -- A new medical marijuana bill was introduced late yesterday in the Maryland House of Delegates that would provide patients with increased protections, seen by advocates as an improvement over the state's current medical marijuana law, the Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, adopted in 2003. However, the legislation, which was introduced by Maryland House Delegate Dan Morhaim, M.D. (D-Baltimore County), has received a mixed reaction from advocates. A bipartisan companion bill was also introduced yesterday by State Senators Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) and David Brinkley (R-Frederick/Carroll County).
"While we applaud the Maryland legislature for recognizing the need to better protect medical marijuana patients from needless arrests and prosecutions," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "The bill falls too short of meeting the fundamental needs of patients." ASA has been working with the legislation's sponsors to develop a more patient-focused bill.
The new legislation proposes that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene administer the state’s medical marijuana program, including the licensing of patients, caregivers, large-scale growers, and distributors. Patients are restricted to 2-ounces of medical marijuana in a 30-day period, can only obtain it from a licensed caregiver or distributor, and cannot grow it themselves. All persons licensed by the state are protected from arrest and prosecution, as well as from "civil penalty or disciplinary action by a professional licensing board for the medical use of marijuana."
ASA and other advocates have vocalized strong opposition to certain provisions in the bill. Topping the list of concerns is the prohibition on self-cultivation and the 2-ounce possession limit, which is an insufficient quantity to treat some medical conditions. By comparison, other states allow patients to possess at least 8 ounces and as much as 48 ounces of dried marijuana. Advocates are also concerned about provisions restricting patients to one source of medical marijuana, and imposing onerous restrictions on providers, including fingerprint registration with the FBI, and a minimum requirement of $100,000 for proposals to cultivate.
"This bill assumes that patients will be served by one provider alone, and that all patients have the same medical needs," continued Woodson. "Not only do patients use different quantities of medical marijuana depending on the type and severity of their condition, but they also need the freedom to choose which strains work the best for them." According to advocates, prohibiting patients from more cheaply, and in many cases more conveniently, growing the strains of medical marijuana they need, threatens to undermine the legislation. Several states, including California, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Maine, have recognized the need for safe access and have implemented distribution programs that complement self-cultivation. New Jersey is the only medical marijuana state to prevent patients from self-cultivating, a restriction that advocates vehemently opposed.
The Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, Maryland's current medical marijuana law, allows patients to use a medical necessity or affirmative defense in court, but does not prevent them from being arrested and prosecuted. The court can impose a $100 fine even if a patient provides sufficient evidence of medical use. Several court cases involving Maryland patients have received significant mainstream media coverage over the past few months, illustrating the need to improve Maryland law. "We welcome reconsideration of this issue by Maryland legislators, but patients are counting on them to get it right this time," said Woodson.
Maryland’s new proposed medical marijuana law (bill number is forthcoming): http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_Proposed_Law.pdf
ASA Legislative Memo re Maryland proposed law: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_Memo.pdf
Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Maryland_Medical_Marijuana_Law.pdf