Medical marijuana bills remain alive in Maryland and Vermont, threatening to spread the movement to allow the use of cannabis for medical reasons to the East Coast this year. But despite progress in both states, obstacles remain. In Vermont, a medical marijuana bill has been approved by the House, but is opposed by Gov. Howard Dean (D), who is mobilizing his allies in the Senate to kill the bill. In Maryland, the key enemy is time. Supporters of a bill in the House of Delegates have only until Monday to send the bill to the Senate or it will die for this session.
The Vermont House on March 15 passed a bill that would allow sufferers of certain diseases, including AIDS and cancer, to obtain a physician's certificate authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. That certificate would shield its bearer from prosecution for marijuana possession. Medical marijuana users could possess no more than three mature plants, four immature plants or three ounces of processed weed.
The bill passed despite concern from some lawmakers that it was no more than a stalking horse for marijuana decriminalization. "This is not just for medical use," said Rep. Henry Gray (R-Barre). "I think they want this bill passed so they can use it for recreational purposes. There are some in this House or in this area that want pot on every table."
But an 82-59 majority of representatives sided with Rep. Allen Palmer (R-Pownal), who told his colleagues the bill was aimed only at aiding the ill. "I do not condone the recreational use of marijuana," said Palmer. "I'm voting for this bill because I think it's going to do good for a few people who really need it."
The bill faces uncertain prospects in the Senate, where Gov. Dean has vowed to mobilize opponents. But Richard Schmitz, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), an advocacy group attempting to push medical marijuana in state legislatures, told DRCNet he remained confident the bill could get through. "Law enforcement opposition melted away after we addressed their concerns," said Schmitz, "and unlike the House, the Senate is controlled by Democrats. Senate Democrats should support this. It will be hard for the Republicans to call them soft on drugs after the House voted for it."
But even if the bill passes the Senate, it must still get past Gov. Dean, who has hinted broadly that he would veto it. "We hope he will simply allow the measure to become law if it passes," said Schmitz. "We understand that he does not support this bill, but we hope he will respect the votes of the two chambers."
In Maryland, meanwhile, that state's strongest effort yet to pass a medical marijuana bill is running out of time, but still has a shot. Cosponsored by 53 of the 141-member House of Delegates, the Darrell Putnam Compassionate Use Act would allow doctors to authorize persons suffering from serious illnesses to grow and possess small amounts of the marijuana. The bill must be voted on by the House Judiciary Committee and the House of Delegates and passed over to the Senate by Monday or it dies.
"This is close," said Schmitz. "We are running up against a deadline, and we've got to get that committee vote done." But Schmitz appeared to be on the verge of conceding defeat this year in Maryland. "We'd love to get this to the Senate, but even if we don't, in many ways this has been a big success for us this year. We've got more than a third of the House as sponsors now, and if it doesn't happen this year, we'll come back even stronger next year."