Medical Cannabis is a High Priority in Md. Legislature

ANNAPOLIS (February 22, 2019)—Creating and selling edible medical cannabis products; allowing inmates to receive medical cannabis treatment; and prohibiting employers from asking about marijuana use could become law in Maryland under bills being pushed in this year's General Assembly.

The Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee is expected to hear 18 bills regarding medical cannabis and marijuana use in the state on Tuesday.

While medical cannabis is legal at the state level for patients given approval by the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, which develops policies and regulations on the drug and qualifies patients to receive it as treatment, recreational marijuana is not yet legalized.

Committee Chair Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is the lead sponsor on 11 of the 18 bills and told Capital News Service that the objective of pushing so many pieces of legislation is to normalize medical marijuana as medication, as it's still treated as an illicit drug under federal law.

Over his years serving in the Maryland legislature, Zirkin told Capital News Service, he's seen medical cannabis help people and wants to take away as many roadblocks to it as he can.

Senate bill 857, sponsored by Zirkin, will allow certain dispensaries to acquire, possess and sell food containing medical cannabis to qualifying patients, along with allowing certain processors to distribute and sell to specified dispensaries.

However, the development of edible products containing cannabis is very different from dealing with flower, or the smokable part of the cannabis plant, or processed cannabis products, as all food produced or sold in the state is regulated by the Maryland Office of Food Safety, said Joy Strand, executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

"We're very excited to be able to bring an edibles program to Maryland, but our top focus on any of the products we're doing or regulating is that they're high-quality and safe for patients as a medicinal product," Strand said in a briefing to lawmakers on Jan. 17.

The Senate bill was cross-filed with House bill 17, sponsored by Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore. Glenn, whose mother is the namesake of the commission, is a leading sponsor of medical marijuana legislation. A hearing for that bill was cancelled and has not yet been rescheduled.

Zirkin, with Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll, is working to advance legislation—Senate bill 97—that states that a person can't be denied the right to purchase, possess or carry a firearm solely based on their authorized status as a medical cannabis patient.

Current federal laws bar medical cannabis patients from purchasing or possessing firearms under the Federal Gun Control Act, and marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug and is illegal on the federal level.

Maryland State Police can ask individuals looking to purchase a gun about their status as medical cannabis patients and can bar patients from completing the transaction, according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website.

Zirkin is also sponsoring Senate bill 855, which would allow certain qualified inmates to receive medical cannabis as treatment in state and local correctional facilities.

While inmates are eligible for medical care and treatment while incarcerated, medications prescribed to them prior to being placed in detention are not always given to them once locked up.

However, Sen. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, is presenting an opposing bill—Senate bill 86—which would bar possession of marijuana or cannabis on the grounds of a local or state correctional facility, or while a criminal offender is in a home detention program.

Serafini's bill clarifies current legislation by stating that civil and criminal penalties can be imposed if an individual violates the law and possesses or uses marijuana or cannabis in any correctional setting.

Another bill from Zirkin is Senate bill 863, which would prohibit certain employers from requiring employees or applicants to disclose their use of marijuana and cannabis.

However, the bill doesn't prohibit employers from making inquiries or taking other actions otherwise mandated to them by local, state or federal laws, or if applicants or employees were using, possessing or under the influence of marijuana at their place of employment.

While medical cannabis is legal for qualified patients and many individuals are aware of its availability, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is prohibited from publishing ads for medical cannabis or associated products on radio, television or billboards.

Senate bill 859, also sponsored by Zirkin, aims to change advertising laws for medical cannabis to be consistent with federal regulations on prescription drug advertising.

The bill will prohibit such advertising from being false or misleading and will be required to state that the product being advertised is only for use by qualifying patients.

"If this helps them, why would we hide it from them?" Zirkin asked during a legislative briefing on medical cannabis on Jan. 17.

Zirkin's other bills to be heard in the Judicial Proceedings Committee include:

• Senate bill 854, which says that a covered employee or dependent isn't entitled to workers' compensation or associated benefits if certain accidental personal injury or disease was caused solely by medical cannabis, and includes medical cannabis under the medicines that an employer or insurer must provide to a covered employee in certain situations.

• Senate bill 858, which would allow higher education institutions to purchase medical cannabis for research projects.

• Senate bill 860, which prohibits certain individuals from being subject to revocation of mandatory supervision, parole or probation for the use or possession of medical cannabis.

• Senate bill 861, which repeals several registration requirements for certifying providers and applications for them with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

• Senate bill 862, which prohibits a landlord from denying patients or caregivers a lease solely based on the possession of medical cannabis.

• Senate bill 864, which prohibits a party from rescinding a contract with a qualified patient or caregiver based on their medical cannabis status and prohibits discrimination by an employer against a qualified patient or caregiver.

Other bills scheduled to be heard in the Judicial Proceedings Committee include:

• Senate bill 383, sponsored by Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, which would authorize law enforcement to obtain medical cannabis at no cost for use during training, and requiring that all products containing medical cannabis include a warning against operating a car or other machinery under the influence.

• Senate bill 418, sponsored by Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, which would prohibit drivers and occupants of motor vehicles from smoking or consuming marijuana in the passenger area of the vehicle on the highway.

• Senate bill 426, sponsored by Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, which would require the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to allow an individual to have an ownership interest in up to six licensed dispensaries.

• Senate bill 552, sponsored by Sen. Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, would prohibit former employees and commissioners of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission from being an owner, employee, or otherwise related to businesses with licenses given under the approval of the commission.

• Senate bill 749, sponsored by Sen. Clarence Lam, D-Baltimore and Howard counties, requires dispensaries and agents to label medical cannabis and associated products if they were grown using pesticides, along with requiring the Department of Agriculture to study health impacts of smoked medical cannabis that was grown using pesticides.

• Senate bill 771, sponsored by Sen. William Smith, D-Montgomery, which substitutes the word "cannabis" for "marijuana" in certain parts of the law, along with altering punishable quantities and establishing age limits and civil offenses involving the use and possession of cannabis.

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