Ignoring a last-minute intervention by drug czar John Walters, the Maryland Senate voted 29-17 Wednesday to approve medical marijuana legislation. The Maryland House of Delegates passed a similar measure last week. Maryland thus becomes the second state to reform its medical marijuana laws through the legislative process. Hawaii did so in 2000. All other medical marijuana measures in recent years have been enacted through the initiative and referendum process.
The Maryland medical marijuana bill does not legalize or regulate the use of the herb for medical purposes, but does allow for a reduced penalty for those people who can show that their use of the drug is a medical necessity. Under Maryland law, possession of marijuana is punishable by up to $1,000 fine and one year in jail, but under the provisions of this bill, those who successfully argue a medical necessity defense can be punished by no more than a $100 fine and no jail time.
"This is a victory, but it is an incomplete victory," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), the organization that spearheaded the drive to win this year in Maryland. "The bill is not as we would have liked; it protects patients from prison, but not from arrest. People with cancer, AIDS, and other terrible diseases can still be arrested, handcuffed, taken to jail, and prosecuted, just to finally escape with a minimal punishment," he told DRCNet. "The bill doesn't go nearly far enough, but it's certainly better than the year in prison they could get now."
It didn't start out that way. The medical marijuana bill that started the session would have legalized marijuana use and possession for victims of cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, or other chronic medical conditions upon a physician's advice, but that bill was gutted in a House committee. In place of the original bill, the House passed the "medical necessity defense" bill.
While Maryland legislators failed to fend off language weakening the bill, they did manage to ignore the unsolicited advice of drug czar John Walters, who lobbied against the bill and spoke out the day of the final vote. The gullible legislators were "fooled" by "drug legalizers," said Walters. "Unfortunately, they have snuck up on people in Maryland and used them to help the wider effort," Walters said.
Although Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) has supported medical marijuana in the past and has hinted he will sign the bill, Walters said he hope Ehrlich "will see through the con." Marijuana is no more "a proven, efficacious medicine" than "medicinal crack," Walters added.
"I'm almost starting to feel sorry for the man," retorted MPP's Mirken, "because John Walters is losing his grip on reality. Marijuana is a medicinal herb with 5,000 years of recorded history. And crack is a form of cocaine, which is a Schedule II drug with medical uses. Doctors can administer cocaine, and nobody in their right mind believes marijuana is more dangerous than cocaine. Yet you still can't prescribe marijuana. The drug czar needs to spend more time on planet Earth."
Maybe, but less time in Maryland, according to Erin Hildebrandt, a medical marijuana patient and mother of five from Smithsburg, who testified for the bill. "I am proud of the Senate for ignoring the last-minute campaign of lies conducted by John Walters," said Hildebrandt. "Crohn's disease used to leave me too sick to even get out of bed, other than to go to the bathroom or the doctor's office, until I discovered that marijuana helped me more than any medicine I had ever tried. Medical marijuana literally gave me my life back. It is John Walters who is 'cruel, immoral and cynical,' not the people working to protect patients."
Still, the bill isn't law until the governor signs it. But MPP's Mirken is optimistic. "Nothing is certain until the ink is dry," he conceded, "but Ehrlich has repeatedly told the Maryland press he supports the general idea, he was a sponsor of the Barney Frank states' rights to medical marijuana bill, and this is a weak bill that only gives patients protections roughly equal to what recreational smokers already have in about a dozen states. It would be shocking if he didn't sign it, a transparent knuckling under to outside political pressure from the White House. He would look like a fool."