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Medical marijuana bill finds new high in Maryland

medicalmarijuana.JPGThe Maryland Senate on Saturday approved a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, require the state to produce the drug, and allow patients to fill marijuana prescriptions at pharmacies if their doctors agree other treatments had first proved ineffective.

The bill's legislative success is a first in the heavily Democratic but socially conservative state. However, it's unlikely to become law any time soon.

House lawmakers are not expected to vote on the measure before Monday, when the General Assembly adjourns. And Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he thinks there are already "too many drugs" available on the nation's streets.

The House is expected to table the bill and study the potential impacts of the legislation over the summer. Proponents said Saturday that barring a surprise victory in the next two days in the House, they would seek to build on this year's 35-12 vote and reintroduce the measure next year.

Maryland's first step toward legalizing marijuana comes as District lawmakers are studying proposals to begin distributing medical marijuana as early as this fall. Virginia lawmakers killed a similar effort last month before it reached the floor of either chamber of the state's General Assembly. Fourteen states allow for some use of marijuana for medical reasons.

Advocates had pitched Maryland's bill as the "opposite" of troubled efforts to legalize marijuana in California, saying state-run production centers would be closely monitored and licensed.

Pharmacies would also be licensed to distribute the drug. In addition, people could only receive prescriptions from a doctor who'd treated them for a while and could attest that alternatives have not worked.

Proponents also argued the measure is necessary because Maryland is currently sending "mixed messages" to people who use medical marijuana. In 2003, Maryland approved a law limiting sentencing to a $100 fine for people who use marijuana if they have a medical excuse. But critics of that law say it still drives people whose pain could be alleviated by marijuana into alleys to buy from drug dealers.

A handful of opponents attempted to corner lawmakers outside the Senate chamber before the vote. "This is the most important bill of the year," said Joyce Nalepka, of Silver Spring. "Our kids are dying ... [drugs] are more dangerous than war."

The measure passed with no debate. Lawmakers who opposed the measure seemed to exhaust their arguments in a first floor debate on the bill on Thursday.

Still, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D-Calvert) one of 10 lawmakers who signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, delayed a previously scheduled vote on the legislation on Friday, telling reporters the measure was "already dead in the House," where two committees have formed a working group to evaluate a similar bill.

Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), said the working group supports the idea of medical marijuana but wanted additional time to work on the practical aspects and implementation of a program.

"It's a very important issue and I think the people want it," Miller said. "The bill is very tightly drafted and I think it's a good start. Sometimes it takes one or two years of passing a bill before people get used to it."

The bill was introduced by Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick), a cancer survivor. Senate Republican leader Allan Kittleman (R-Howard) also supported it.

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), a principal sponsor of the bill issued a statement calling the legislation the best medical marijuana bill in the country and imploring House lawmakers to support it.

"It offers legal protection and safe medical access to patients who are desperately in need and takes every possible measure to prevent abuses."

(Associated Press Writer Kathleen Miller contributed to this report)

By Aaron C. Davis  |  April 10, 2010; 4:17 PM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , General Assembly  | Tags: California, Drugs, Health, Illegal, Martin O'Malley, Maryland Senate, Medical cannabis, Pro-Legalization  
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Medical marijuana. What a joke, just look at California and see the mess that they are in right now. The people that lobby for this to pass just want all marijuana to be leagalized. Why dont we just cut to the chase and make TCP legal, because that's what makes dope, dope!

Posted by: randykree | April 10, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

A step in the right direction. How much has the war on drugs cost? Make it legal, shift the DEA to border patrol. Tax-BOOM!

Posted by: CNAWHITE | April 11, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Finally some common sense is becoming legalized in MD. If poison alcohol is legal, this is way behind schedule.

Posted by: FiatBooks | April 11, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

The only 'joke' with medical cannabis is that so many people with no medical or scientific training seem to think that they're qualified to judge whether it is medicine or no, randykree being a prime example. The only problems in CA are made by such people.

Approaching 4 out of 5 people support letting doctors and scientists make the decision, rather than politicians and ignorant people who have an agenda.

randykree, when you get an MD behind your name perhaps your opinion will be meaningful. In the meantime, you should just wallow in your own ignorance and mind your own business.

Posted by: bpayne2 | April 11, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"The bill's legislative success is a first in the heavily Democratic but socially conservative state"

Since when has Maryland been "socially conservative." The only states more liberal than MD are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and MAYBE New Joisey, but, except for CT they're all less Democratic than Maryland.

Democratic & Socially Conservative=West Virginia (the only such state)

The AP journalists need to do some more background research.

Posted by: one4all | April 11, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

WTF is TCP? You really must not know a darn thing about what you're talking about.

Posted by: DadRyan | April 11, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Historic statewide initiative in California to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis. Help build national support for the movement. Sign up on the website, join the campaign!

Posted by: unknownfuzzball | April 15, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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