Erin Hildebrandt's Crohn's disease and chronic migraines were so debilitating that the 32-year-old mother of five once worried that she would never be able to properly care for her children. She tried various powerful narcotics to deal with the pain, but found no relief. Now she worries that she could be arrested and her children taken away because she found a drug that works: pot.

With Maryland lawmakers considering legalizing the use of medical marijuana, the Washington County woman was among witnesses to testify yesterday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Cancer sufferers told lawmakers how the drug had helped them withstand chemotherapy. Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), a doctor, said that for some patients, marijuana is far superior to alternatives in treating nausea.

But opponents worried that legalizing the drug for medicinal purposes would send the wrong message to children and could potentially put the state in conflict with the federal government. The Hospice Network of Maryland, while supportive of the effort, said the bill would decriminalize the drug for medical use -- but not for the doctors who prescribe it.

Nine states administer active medical marijuana programs. But the federal government recently prosecuted a California man who grew marijuana to be sold for medicinal uses under the auspices of that state's laws.

Maryland's bill has an ally in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor "supports the concept" but has not decided whether to support the bill.

Fast Lane Fines

Motorists using Maryland's highways could soon face a ticket for refusing to move out of the left lane to allow faster traffic to whiz by, even if the approaching vehicle is speeding.

The House of Delegates yesterday passed a bill that would force drivers in the far left lane to give way to the right in favor of an overtaking vehicle or face a fine of up to $500 and a point on their driver's license. Drivers in high-occupancy vehicle lanes would be exempt.

The bill initially failed to garner a constitutional majority, but was reconsidered and passed 90-49. It now moves to the Senate.

Supporters say it would improve traffic flow and discourage road rage. Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore) noted that the courtesy has long been taught in driver education classes. But opponents argued that the proposal would reward speeders by forcing law-abiding citizens to yield to them.

"The message we are sending aggressive drivers is now you've got a left lane and you can zoom right on," said Del. Carmen Amedori (R-Carroll).

Archdiocese Disputes Testimony

The Archdiocese of Washington is disputing testimony given to Maryland lawmakers by an Olney man who said Catholic Church officials dismissed his brother's allegations of abuse as "not credible."

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said that the church investigated the charges brought by Michael Mollish six years ago and referred them to police, but that the charges could not be substantiated.

Mollish's brother, John, testified Tuesday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on behalf of legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for civil suits in child abuse cases and would require priests to report evidence of child abuse including, in some cases, information heard in the confessional.

Gibbs said Michael Mollish first brought his complaint in 1997, about 17 years after the abuse allegedly occurred. Gibbs said the church reported the charges to Prince George's County police, sent the Rev. Paul E. Lavin for an evaluation and referred his case to a review board. Police did not open a case until 1998, when Michael Mollish reported the charges. The review board could not substantiate the allegation and Lavin was reinstated, Gibbs said. County prosecutors declined to file charges.

In July, after John Mollish found other individuals who accused Lavin of abuse, the church removed the priest from his Capitol Hill parish.