Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Forward in Maryland

Frederick County Sen. David Brinkley may succeed this year in his nine-year quest to reduce criminal penalties for medical marijuana use.

Brinkley, a Republican, is one of the lead sponsors of a bill that would allow medical marijuana users to be found not guilty on criminal possession charges and would establish a study at a research university regarding the use of medical marijuana in general.

The House of Delegates gave the bill a preliminary OK on Saturday. If the House acts – as scheduled – to pass it on Monday, then Brinkley said he thought the bill would become law.

Brinkley, a cancer survivor, became involved in the issue nine years ago when he sponsored a bill that reduced penalties for those found guilty of possession of marijuana who were using it for medical purposes. The House of Delegates version of that bill became law in 2003.

Last year, Brinkley introduced a more comprehensive bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state after the federal attorney general made comments that the federal government would not prosecute those participating in a legitimate state medical marijuana program.

That bill passed the Senate but not the House of Delegates by the time the session ended. Brinkley’s bill this year, introduced with Sen. Jaime Raskin and Delegate Dan Morhaim, would have set up a state-monitored program for growing and distributing marijuana for medical purposes. It has since been amended to allow the medical use defense for a “not guilty” verdict, and to establish further study on a state system.

Although the bill is not as comprehensive as when it was originally introduced, Brinkley said the criminal provisions provide a stopgap while the state studies the issue.

“I don’t think that a person should go through the rest of their life with a criminal brand on them by virtue of trying to seek some kind of relief for a chronic or (debilitating) or some other condition that perhaps other medical remedies have not helped them with,” Brinkley said.

The bill would not apply if the marijuana was used in a public place or if the defendant possessed more than 1 ounce.

The defendant would have to prove that he or she had a debilitating medical condition that was severe and resistant to conventional medicine. The condition would have to be diagnosed by a doctor with whom the patient had a “bona fide physician-patient relationship.”

Because the bill would provide a defense to patients only once charges were brought, it would still be illegal to sell marijuana even if it were used for medical purposes.

Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, said people would continue to get marijuana through the same channels they currently use.

“We heard testimony from Maryland citizens that have been saddled with a criminal conviction, ruining their lives,” Morhaim said.

Delegate Theodore Sophocleus, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County, raised objections to the bill on Saturday and unsuccessfully sought to delay it.

A former practicing pharmacist, he said it didn’t make sense for the state to approve a drug that was illegal and not available at pharmacies. He said there was no way of telling if the marijuana was pure.

“We’re saying that’s OK because we are going to do a study later on — on a program we’ve already started?” he asked.

House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, a Republican who represents Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, said the criminal pardon is a large policy departure for the state because it would punish those selling marijuana but not those using it.

If the House passes the bill, the Senate would need to approve the House amendments before the session ends on Monday.

Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, said the votes were there in both houses.

If passed, Maryland would become the 16th state in the country to remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana patients, he said.

“It’s obviously not what we had hoped for, and it’s not a perfect bill, but it’s definitely a step forward and the most we could accomplish this year,” Riffle said.

– Article originally from WTOP