Almost one year after his concerns prompted lawmakers to quash a bill to legalize medical marijuana, legislation supported by state health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein was introduced Friday to legalize the drug’s use for seriously ill patients. The proposal, which would task academic medical centers with filling the prescriptions, stems from a rift in the state’s Medical Marijuana Work Group, which decided in December to put forward competing plans to legalize distribution of the drug to ailing patients. Meanwhile, other members of the work group are standing behind a second bill, House Bill 1158, which would license dispensaries to fill medical marijuana prescriptions. Both plans were introduced in the House on Friday by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills, the legislature’s only practicing physician. “I thought in fairness and respect to all the work group members, I would put forth both versions of the legislation,” Morhaim said.
Both plans change the status quo in Maryland and create a distribution network for medical marijuana, but Morhaim supports the plan that uses dispensaries as opposed to the academic medical centers. Both bills would protect licensed patients and their caregivers from arrest and prosecution. Last year, the General Assembly passed a law that allows patients to use an affirmative defense in court. However, those patients still are subject to arrest, and caregivers who might be seeking the drug for someone else are not protected by state law, Morhaim said. “This [legislation] is about creating a doctor-patient relationship, not a dealer-patient relationship,” he said. “In the war on drugs, let’s get the sick and the dying off the battlefield.” Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park is expected to sponsor similar legislation in the Senate. According to a January poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, a clear majority of Marylanders support making marijuana use legal for medical reasons, with 63 percent favoring it and 33 percent opposed. The strongest opposition to medical marijuana came from Republicans, with 46 percent opposed, while 50 percent support the medical use of the drug.
Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia allow seriously ill people to treat their conditions with medical marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Seventeen other states are considering similar legislation this year, according to the group. Both bills also include provisions to collect data such as age, disease, treatment, dosage and addiction about patients admitted to the medical marijuana programs. Supporters say it would allow the legislature to adjust the law in the future based on the program’s performance. A request for comment from Sharfstein’s office wasn’t returned. “This is also an opportunity to gain information and learn,” Morhaim said. “We’re really trying to think this through very carefully and very responsibly.”
via : Gazette
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