Assembly could give green light to medical marijuana

CUMBERLAND — The Maryland General Assembly faces divided recommendations on enacting medical marijuana legislation from a panel appointed by state health officials. Surprisingly, state pharmacists will likely not be part of the distribution scheme under either set of proposals.  Pharmacists are “more or less taken out of the equation,” said Howard Schiff, executive director of the Maryland Pharmacists Association and himself a licensed pharmacist. “Pharmacies are not part of the distribution plan,” Schiff said. Indeed, only one pharmacist was a member of the state’s Medical Marijuana Model Program Workgroup, which issued its report recently. The organization itself hasn’t taken a position on the medical marijuana proposals because there was “nothing all of us can agree on … We’re all over the place, just like a lot of people are,” Schiff said. Many members are concerned about the fact that federal law still considers marijuana distribution a crime. Medical marijuana is used to treat many forms of illness and pain, including HIV/AIDS, seizures, severe nausea from cancer and other treatments, and muscle spasms, among others. Existing proposals would give the green light to “compassion centers” which could distribute the drug. Schiff said he believes that mechanism has not worked particularly well in other states. Most compassion centers are nonprofits and help those seeking medical marijuana meet physicians willing to prescribe the drug. They offer growing equipment and growing tips, and in some states, grow and provide the drug.

At this point, only one medical marijuana bill has been filed, House Bill 15; but few pieces of legislation aren’t amended by the time of passage, sometimes barely recognizable compared to what they looked like at birth. The bill was filed by Delegate Cheryl Glenn of Baltimore. The bill would repeal a number of laws against marijuana use and possession of paraphernalia, but also limits the amounts of marijuana that may be legally possessed by both a compassion center or a patient. The work group divided over two approaches to use in Maryland. The group’s chairman was Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Work group membership included a wide representation of stakeholders and experts, including legislators, patients, scientists, health care providers and law enforcement representatives. “I thank all work group members for their time and effort in considering this challenging issue,” Sharfstein said. The trouble was that no consensus was reached. Between August and November, the group met three times, with subgroups meeting five times.

“During the deliberation process, it became clear that work group members held different perspectives on several critical issues that could not be represented by a single proposal.  As a result, the group decided to provide the General Assembly with two different proposals,” according to a state press release. The first proposal would emphasize continued study of marijuana and only make the drug available through medical research institutions, like university hospitals. Access to the drug would be limited to test subjects and not be available to the general population of those suffering illness or pain that might respond to marijuana. There would be strict oversight of the research programs by the state. Getting the drug to a wide range of patients would be the goal of the second proposal. The state would license or register academic institutions, growers and distributors. It would encourage access by patients throughout the state. HB15 more closely follows this proposal.

via : Times-News

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