By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
The Maryland Senate is expected to take up final approval of a medical marijuana bill this week, after giving it a preliminary OK on Tuesday. Although the bill has been drastically amended since being introduced, its sponsor said he still feels it represents progress.
The bill, proposed by state Sen. David Brinkley of Frederick County, will now allow people charged with use or possession of marijuana to argue before a judge that they did so out of medical necessity, reports Meg Tully of the Frederick News-Post. If a judge agrees, the person would be found not guilty of the charge, known as an “affirmative defense.”
Senate Bill 308 [PDF] also proposes a work group to come up with a model program to allow patient access to medical marijuana by 2013. The program would be through an academic medical research institution and would require further legislation before it could be implemented.
?Brinkley said he felt the amended bill still makes progress, and would be helpful to people who want to use a medically based affirmative defense for marijuana charges. Under current Maryland law, they may already use the medical defense and have punishment limited to a fine of less than $100, but would still be found guilty.
The new bill isn’t perfect, Brinkley admits. The original version he proposed with Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) would have allowed doctors to prescribe it and pharmacies to dispense it — which would, as almost any activist knows, have immediately run afoul of marijuana’s federal Schedule I classification, which prohibits doctors from prescribing and pharmacies from dispensing cannabis. (Would it be so hard for these legislators to check on these things? How about looking at other medical marijuana states to see what’s worked?)
Under the amended bill, patients “are still going to the black market, so we still don’t have any type of legal mechanism for the acquisition of the substance, and that’s what the study is supposed to get at,” Brinkley said. (Once again, why reinvent the wheel? Why is a study needed, when other states already have working dispensary programs in place?)
Sen. Brinkley envisions the state would solicit the help of the University of Maryland or Johns Hopkins University to help administer the program. (Both of which would, in all likelihood, not touch marijuana with a 10-foot pole, due to fear of losing fat federal grants. See New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie’s plan for Rutgers University to supply marijuana went exactly nowhere.)
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said he supports the provisions of the bill that call for a work group.
Sharfstein testified against the original version of the bill, citing concerns about implementing the law and its scope. Brinkley said that basically killed the bill — the administration, under a previous health secretary, had supported it the year before.
Sharstein said he believes the new academic-centered proposal is the best model for medical marijuana, and would provide “better oversight.”
“Marijuana has very clear risks, and it really should be a yellow-light approach to protect the public,” Sharfstein said, without bothering to mention any specific risks, or from what, exactly, he was protecting the public.
This “yellow-light” approach was advocated by a committee from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences back in 1999. The Institute recommended that marijuana be available for medical purposes through “research programs.”
The treatment programs would be less than six months, would only be used when other medication has failed (thus rendering the program almost useless — why require patients to endure harsh, ineffective pharmaceuticals before the try something that actually works?), and require patients to be notified of “potential risks of smoking as a delivery system,” Sharfstein said. (Current research has shown that not only does marijuana not cause lung cancer, but that it also apparently exerts a slight protective effect against cancer.)
Sharfstein said he believed the medical marijuana work group will follow the Institute’s model.
If approved by the state Senate, SB 308 will move on to the Maryland House of Delegates.
A recent poll showed broad, overwhelming support for the bill among Maryland’s voters, with 72 percent saying yes to medical marijuana and just 21 percent opposed. Seven percent were undecided.