Maryland House looks to expand medical marijuana law, considering other measures

March 15

Last year, Maryland legalized medical use of marijuana but limited distribution to a small number of approved “academic medical centers.” None of those centers — including the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University — has been willing to participate, however, so legislators are looking to tweak the law to help patients who could benefit from the drug to obtain it.

On Monday, the House of Delegates plans to vote on legislation that would allow “certified physicians” to discuss marijuana with patients and then recommend its use. Those patients or their caregivers could then obtain medical marijuana from a licensed grower. Patients would be limited to one 30-day supply at a time.

A similar measure is pending in the Senate.

The legislation is among several marijuana-related bills being considered in the waning weeks of Maryland’s 90-day legislative session.

Some lawmakers have proposed legalizing pot and regulating and taxing its production, distribution and sale — following the lead of Colorado and Washington state. But that idea has not gained much traction.

On Friday, the Senate embraced a more moderate measure, voting 36 to 8 for a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under that legislation, those caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana would be subject to a civil fine of up to $100 rather than risking jail time.

The prospects for a decriminalization bill are less certain in the House, where a similar measure died last year after passing the Senate. Late Saturday afternoon, the chamber’s Judiciary Committee postponed a vote on legislation to decriminalize.

The House was meeting Saturday in advance of a Monday deadline for bills to clear at least one chamber of the legislature.

The legislation to expand access to medical marijuana is the least controversial of the measures, and the House bill has 80 sponsors from both parties. If the bill passes in the House, it would continue on to the Senate, where approval is also expected.

“The important thing to recognize is that there are thousands of Marylanders who could be helped in the short and long term,” said Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), a sponsor of the legislation.

Maryland has already established a commission that oversees medical marijuana in the state. It would be up to that commission to certify physicians, license growers and issue identification cards to patients or their caregivers.

The commission would encourage growers to develop and offer medical marijuana in a range of forms. It would also collect and, with the help of researchers, analyze data about how medical marijuana is being used.

“Here’s this one plant that has been segregated off to the side . . . and it’s not studied,” Morhaim said. “We’re missing a tremendous economic opportunity to exploit this plant and use it in an intelligent, properly scientific, research way.”

Seventeen states and the District have moved to decriminalize the use of small amounts of marijuana, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates legalization.

Under Maryland law, a person in possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is subject to a criminal conviction, up to 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Existing criminal penalties would still apply to possession of larger amounts of marijuana under the bill passed by the Senate on Friday.

That bill, sponsored by Sens. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard County), includes provisions designed to discourage drug abuse among minors, which were not part of a decriminalization bill approved by the Senate last year.

It was uncertain, as of late Saturday afternoon, when the House Judiciary Committee would vote on decriminalization.

Staff writer Fredrick Kunkle contributed to this report.

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