New Maryland Governor Supports Medical Marijuana
by Steven T. Dennis
Jan. 22, 2003
Legislators drafting a variety of bills
ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said he will sign
legislation to legalize medical marijuana, giving new hope to
advocates who say the drug can help relieve nausea from chemotherapy
and other debilitating conditions.
Ehrlich said Thursday that he has long supported legalizing marijuana
use for medicinal purposes, and that "if the bill makes sense," he
would sign it into law.
With last year's chief medical marijuana advocate now out of the
legislature, a doctor, a nurse and a cancer survivor are among the
lawmakers drafting marijuana bills.
Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills, a physician, wants
to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana under strict controls. Two
doctors would have to sign off on the prescription and follow up to
see how patients are responding to treatment.
Morhaim envisions the state government eventually growing and
distributing marijuana to ensure consistent quality and control.
"It's not like you need a huge field," Morhaim said. "You don't need
acres and acres."
Morhaim said it would be helpful if Ehrlich can use his influence
with President George W. Bush (R) to relax federal prohibitions on
marijuana possession, provided that the use is in accordance with a
"We prescribe drugs much more dangerous than marijuana," Morhaim
said. "We prescribe narcotics, we even prescribe cocaine on occasion.
Like any medical tool, it's going to help some people and not others."
But advocates for the legislation lost a key supporter in the House
when Ehrlich nominated Del. Thomas E. Hutchins (R-Dist. 28) of Port
Tobacco as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hutchins,
a retired Maryland State Police trooper who has been a member of the
Maryland Army National Guard for more than 30 years, was planning to
carry the legislation in the House, bringing a respectable
military-law enforcement voice to the issue.
Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Paula
C. Hollinger (D-Dist. 11) of Pikesville, meanwhile, is drafting a
bill that would issue patients an identity card that would give them
immunity from prosecution for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Physicians also would be protected from arrest, as would caregivers.
But Hollinger, who said she expects her bill to go to her committee,
does not see the state growing and distributing the drug; instead,
patients would be allowed to grow up to three mature marijuana plants
and four immature plants at any one time.
Under Hollinger's bill, the Board of Physician Quality Assurance
would oversee the process.
Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market, a cancer survivor,
is drafting a bill similar to the compromise measure that passed the
House last year. That bill would have reduced penalties for the
medical use of marijuana to a maximum of $100.
Brinkley said he will coordinate his efforts with Hollinger, Morhaim
"I never used it, but I feel that very sick people in the state
shouldn't be hassled," he said, adding that it does not make sense
for the state to incarcerate people who are dying and may benefit
from the drug.
Brinkley said if a bill passes and Ehrlich signs it, it will be
nationally significant, both because Ehrlich is a Republican and
because Maryland would be one of the first states on the East Coast
to pass medical marijuana legislation. It also would put the issue
directly on Congress' doorstep.
Advocates say people who suffer from cancer, glaucoma, nausea,
multiple sclerosis or epilepsy can benefit from using marijuana,
which can relieve some symptoms. But opponents worry that legalizing
the drug's use -- in however limited a fashion -- could open the door
to complete legalization and confuse young people who are being told
not to use drugs.
Any medical marijuana bill still faces a tough time in the
legislature. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis
is cool to the idea, and he voted against the House bill last year.
Busch said the medical community has not gotten behind the idea.
"I think the devil is in the details," he said. "I don't feel
comfortable all of a sudden legalizing a controlled dangerous
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake
Beach has kept an open mind on the issue, saying he planned to sit in
on the hearings.
Politically, the issue plays well into Ehrlich's image as a different
kind of Republican. The "Just Say No" crowd generally opposes any
legalization of drugs, but Ehrlich, a lawyer and former member of the
Judiciary Committee, has avoided doctrinaire positions. In Congress,
he was one of a few Republicans to co-sponsor a medical marijuana
bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
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