The Maryland Senate Monday passed a bill that would allow seriously ill residents to obtain medical marijuana through state-regulated research programs run by academic medical centers. The House of Delegates approved the bill last month; Gov. Patrick O'Malley is expected to sign it shortly.The bill, House Bill 1101, creates a commission that would allow academic medical research centers to apply to operate programs under state regulation that would provide marijuana grown by the federal government or by state-licensed growers. The bill doesn't allow patients to grow their own medicine.
Drug reform advocates had mixed views on what passage of the legislation accomplishes.
"This marks a major step forward for Maryland medical marijuana patients and their families," said Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped shepherd the bill through the legislature. "The Assembly's overwhelming support for this important legislation reflects that of the people of Maryland and the nation as a whole. The time has come to allow seriously ill people to obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help them."
But some expressed skepticism about whether the bill will actually result in patients getting access to medical marijuana. The federal government has long refused to provide marijuana, even for Food and Drug Administration-approved studies, and it is unclear just when and where state-licensed growers might appear.
"Maryland has taken a small step in the right direction, but more steps are necessary for patients to actually obtain the medicine they need to alleviate their suffering," said Amanda Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Maryland has many workable and successful models to draw from: Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have successfully legalized marijuana for medical purposes despite the ongoing federal ban. Medical marijuana is used in those jurisdictions by hundreds of thousands of patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and other serious and debilitating illnesses."
Still, it is time for academic medical research centers to step up, said Riffle.
"We hope the state's academic medical centers will take action and apply for the program so they can begin meeting the needs of Maryland residents suffering from debilitating medical conditions," he said. "Individuals suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious illnesses should not be forced to obtain their medicine in the underground market."