The action came on one of the General Assembly’s busiest days, as both chambers sent scores of bills to the other to meet a Monday “crossover” deadline. Other bills that advanced would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, stiffen penalties on domestic abusers and help implement the federal health-care law in Maryland.
The Senate also passed a bill that would make use of a hand-held cellphone while a driving a “primary offense” instead of a “secondary offense,” meaning that alone would be reason enough for a police officer to pull a motorist over and issue a ticket.
Supporters of the House medical marijuana bill hailed it as a significant step toward a compassionate treatment option for people with illnesses such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws.California was the first, adopting its version in 1996.
Maryland’s bill would limit distribution of marijuana to a small number of qualified academic medical centers. Legislative analysts say it’s unclear whether any of those would be eligible and interested in participating. Two of the state’s most prominent institutions — the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University — have indicated that, at least for now, they are not.
Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), the bill’s primary sponsor, said he is confident that if the measure becomes law, qualified academic centers will come forward to take part.
“I can understand them not wanting to be out front on this,” said Morhaim, who is a doctor. “They need to watch and see what the road map is.”
Under the bill, the centers would be required to monitor patients and publish their findings, an approach that officials in the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) have characterized as cautious enough to win their support. Legislative analysts say the earliest a center is likely to begin distribution is 2016.
“Dispensing marijuana is still a violation of federal law, and we don’t want to put our staff in that position,” said Alex Likowski, spokesman at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, where the university system’s medical school is located. “At this moment, there are a lot of concerns. . . . We are a long way from knowing what to do.”
Kim Hoppe, a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Medicine, said that Hopkins “is open to a conversation with the state about how a medical marijuana program could be implemented, but right now it would be premature to commit to administering or participating in such a program.”