The Washington Post

Scaled-back medical marijuana bill advances in Md. Senate

Advocates for legalizing medical marijuana in Maryland are settling for a go-slow approach in the face of opposition from the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). A compromise measure advanced in the state Senate Tuesday that would require a study group to develop a so-called Maryland model for legalizing the drug for medical purposes.

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), one of the lead sponsors, said the scaled-back approach is “not everything we would have hoped for,” but he said it recognizes the reality of the administration’s opposition. The compromise also would provide new legal protections for patients who can show that their use of marijuana is a “medical necessity” — something Raskin called a “big step forward.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) (By Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

There was broad bipartisan support for the measure as initially envisioned. A similar bill to create a program to legally dispense medical marijuana passed the Senate last year and was not opposed by the O’Malley administration.

But the governor’s new health secretary, Joshua M. Sharfstein, made a convincing case, lawmakers said, that the bill would not sufficiently limit the number of dispensaries or the types of conditions for which marijuana could be recommended by a doctor. Sharfstein, the former second-in-command at the Food and Drug Administration, also said that the program would cost several million dollars and take several years to establish.

In addition to Sharfstein’s position, there were still questions about the bill’s future in the House, where Del. Joseph Vallerio (D-Prince George’s) – a key committee chairman – has continued to have reservations about the original measure because it conflicts with federal law.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.


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