Medical Marijuana Study Bill Passes Md. House

Panel of Experts to Advise Legislature on State Medical Marijuana Policy

ANNAPOLIS (March 28, 2011) – By a vote of 105-29, the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB 291 today, a bill that would create an 18-member panel to advise the legislature on the best way to create a medical marijuana program in 2012. HB 291 was amended from an earlier version of the bill, which would have set up a comprehensive medical marijuana program, protecting state-registered patients from arrest and allowing pharmacies and state-regulated dispensing centers to provide patients with medical marijuana. The bill, sponsored by the only physician in the General Assembly, Del. Dan Morhaim, was amended after Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein advocated a “yellow light” approach to medical marijuana.

The panel would be comprised of doctors, patients, law enforcement officials, and experts on medical marijuana policy. They will make recommendations to the legislature on how to safely and effectively implement a well-regulated medical marijuana program. Last Thursday, the Maryland Senate passed SB 308, which included the study language, as well as immediate protections for patients. SB 308 would allow patients who use marijuana to treat medical conditions to use a medical necessity defense in court. The Senate approved the bill by a 41-6 vote, which included a majority of both Democrat and Republican senators.

"While we had hoped to see a comprehensive medical marijuana law on par with those in 15 other states, it’s encouraging that the legislature will at least make measured but real progress toward the goal of protecting patients from arrest and providing legal access to doctor-recommended medicine,” said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We're also relieved to see that the Senate has decided to remove criminal penalties from patients who are currently using medical marijuana while they wait for a comprehensive program to be put in place. It’s imperative that the House do the same."

Medical marijuana is permitted in 15 states and the District of Columbia, and many more are currently considering legislation to allow its use under tightly controlled conditions, including Delaware and Connecticut. Such laws already exist in Rhode Island and New Jersey, where medical marijuana distribution centers were recently licensed by the states and should be up and running later this year.

Source: Marijuana Policy Project, Washington, D.C.

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