ANNAPOLIS, MD -- The Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a medical marijuana bill yesterday afternoon by a 7-4 vote. After adopting several committee amendments, the Senate version, SB 627, is now different from that of the House. Most importantly, the Senate committee included amendments that would provide explicit protection from arrest and prosecution for registered patients, increase patient possession limits from two to six ounces in a 30-day period, and establish an identification card program. However, despite persistent requests from patients and advocates, the Senate committee failed to offer an amendment that would allow patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana.
"While the senate bill is a vast improvement over the House version, it still falls short of meeting patients' needs," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "We will continue to work with both the House and Senate in Maryland to pass a bill we can all be proud of." ASA has been working with key legislators to improve the bill, but given that Maryland's legislative session ends in less than two weeks, time is running out. The full Senate can now vote on its version, but a joint House committee working group is still mulling over possible amendments.
SB 627, authored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (Montgomery County), and HB 712, authored by Delegate Dr. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), were both introduced on February 5th. HB 712 was heard jointly on February 26th by the House Judiciary and House Government Operations Committees. A bipartisan work group was appointed to address issues raised by patients and committee members, however, so far, none of the concerns raised by patients have been addressed. If HB 712 is passed by both House committees and then by the full House, it would still need to go to a conference committee before being sent to the governor.
Advocates have lobbied forcefully against a prohibition on patient cultivation, something particular to only one other medical marijuana state: New Jersey. But, advocates are also concerned about a provision that would restrict patient access to one state-licensed distributor. "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."
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 mainstream media coverage over the past few months, illustrating the need to improve Maryland law. "We welcome reconsideration of this issue by the Maryland legislature, but patients are counting on them to get it right this time," said Woodson. If necessary, ASA vows to bring patient concerns back to the next legislative session.
Senate version of Maryland’s proposed medical marijuana law, SB 627, without amendments: http://mlis.state.md.us/2010rs/bills/sb/sb0627f.pdf
Amendments to SB 627 from Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/SB627_Amendments.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_L...