Medical marijuana bill advances in Maryland

The Maryland House of Delegates approved legislation Monday intended to make it possible for patients to use medical marijuana, which was legalized last year but remains unavailable in the state.

Delegates voted 127 to 9 to allow “certified physicians” to discuss the option of medical marijuana with patients and then recommend its use. Those patients or their caregivers could obtain a 30-day supply from a licensed grower. The legislation now heads to the Senate, where approval is expected.

The bill was one of dozens approved by the House on Monday during a marathon meeting ahead of a “crossover” deadline, after which legislation that has not been approved by either the House or the Senate has longer odds of being passed before the legislative session ends in early April.

Delegates also voted in favor of expanding pre-kindergarten classes to include more children, providing more oversight of the implementation of new education standards and “shielding” certain criminal records from the public record with the aim of making it easier for former convicts to get jobs.

The Senate convened Monday evening with its own full agenda that included bills that would boost annual tax credits given to movie and television companies that film in the state and require restaurants to urge patrons to alert their servers about any known food allergies the customers have before their orders are taken.

The Senate’s version of the “House of Cards” bill — sponsored by Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County) — would increase the tax credit to $18.5 million. It passed by a vote of 45 to 1.

The food allergy bill — sponsored by Sens. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) and Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) — would allow certain counties with limited legislative powers to pass laws requiring restaurants to urge patrons to alert servers about their food allergies. It also would require restaurants to have someone on staff who has completed a food allergen awareness training course. The measure passed 33 to 14.

Last year, Maryland lawmakers legalized the 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. That has frustrated some patients and their advocates who want legal access to the drug.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the legislation that passed out of the House on Monday, said that medical marijuana could improve the lives of some Marylanders. Access will be “very, very tightly restricted” to prevent recreational use of the drug, she said.

Maryland has 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, and collect data that could assist doctors in prescribing the medication.

The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, again delayed action Monday on separate legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state. The Senate passed a similar bill last week, however, meaning the issue could still receive consideration by the House in the remaining three weeks of the session.

In a brief interview Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s), who opposes the legislation, said it was unclear when — or whether — his committee will vote on the measure.

Under both the House and Senate versions of the decriminalization bill, individuals caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana would be subject to a civil fine of up to $100 rather than a criminal conviction that could result in jail time.

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

On Monday, delegates also approved legislation sponsored by the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that would begin to expand pre-K classes for more children. Maryland already offers free pre-K classes to economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds, but state leaders hope to eventually offer that to all 4-year-olds.

Their first step toward that goal is to provide grants to local school systems and pre-K providers that want to accept children from families making more money than currently allowed. The measure could help up to 1,600 children.

Delegates approved the expansion in a 103 to 33 vote. The Senate approved similar legislation last week.

Delegates also voted 127 to 8 to establish a work group to review the implementation of education standards called Common Core. The group would include state education officials, representatives from teachers unions, education experts, parents and a student representative. This bill is one of three related to the controversial standards, which are being implemented quickly in Maryland schools.

The House also approved legislation known as the Maryland Second Chance Act of 2014, which is intended to make it easier for people with minor criminal convictions to get jobs.

The bill, which passed 88 to 48, would allow a person to petition a court to remove certain convictions from a publicly available online database maintained by the state. In most cases, the person would have to wait three years after a sentence was completed.

Under amendments passed in recent days, however, police and courthouses would continue to maintain records of the “shielded” offenses, and employers could require an applicant to provide a full history of any criminal activity as a condition of employment.

“This is not a license to lie,” Vallario, the House Judiciary chairman, said during preliminary floor debate over the bill.

The Senate has not acted on similar legislation.

Fredrick Kunkle contributed to this report.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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