The Marijuana Crusaders

Maryland — Last year, when the Maryland State Senate took up a bill that would legalize medical use of marijuana, it had one sponsor with a powerful personal connection to the issue.Sen. David Brinkley, the conservative Republican from Frederick who cosponsored the bill with Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), has survived two bouts with cancer and spoke passionately about the debilitating side effects he endured as a result of several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. In studies, marijuana has proven to be a particularly excellent antiemetic (anti-nausea) in patients coping with the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, like Brinkley. The bill passed the Senate 35-12, but stalled in the House of Delegates. 

“Right after the legislative session was over, I found out I had colon cancer,” says Raskin, 48, the bill’s cosponsor, who, over the summer, had a tumor removed and went through several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. He still has another course of chemo to complete, but doctors say his prognosis is excellent. 

“Now, I feel all the more passionately about this issue,” says Raskin. “Both of us are completely devoted and passionate about it, and we have every reason to believe that it’ll pass the Senate with even a bigger margin.” 

In the legislative session that begins this month, there is a good chance that both houses of the state legislature will pass a medical marijuana bill that is among the most comprehensive and detailed in the country, possibly providing a sensible blueprint for other states wary of the perceived free-for-all in states like California. 

The law, largely crafted by Del. Daniel Morhaim (D-Baltimore), an emergency room physician, delineates strict procedures for distribution and control of marijuana, based on the system for powerful prescription drugs like morphine. Unlike laws in other states, the Maryland bill only permits distribution through pharmacies, not dispensaries, and allows it to be prescribed only for certain, very serious conditions. 

Raskin notes that in California, marijuana can be prescribed for ailments like “mild anxiety.” “We want to focus on the people who are dealing with leukemia and lung cancer and chemotherapy and have found no other relief,” he says. 

Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project who spent time in the state last year rallying support for the bill, says the Maryland bill is among the most restrictive in the country. “It calls for statewide regulation from the Department of Health, which California doesn’t,” he says. “Also, it doesn’t allow for home cultivation.” 

Largely as a result of the tight regulations and controls it includes, the medical marijuana bill, SB 627, passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support in April 2010. The bill had similar support in the House of Delegates, but stalled in the Judiciary Committee, where chairman Joe Vallario, a longtime opponent of medical marijuana, refused to bring it to a vote. “The manufacturing and production are something that we’re going to really have to look at,” he said at the end of the legislative session, suggesting that he would need to see more studies on the subject before allowing the bill to go to a vote. (Vallario did not return calls seeking comment for this story.) 

“The house vote would have been a landslide,” says Riffle, whose organization sponsored a poll of primary voters in Vallario’s district, showing that 62 percent supported the bill, and only 22 percent opposed it. 

“The vast majority of House Delegates approve of this and would’ve liked for it to come to a vote,” he says. “Vallario is the only one who didn’t approve, and, unfortunately, he’s in a relatively powerful position.” 

Brinkley and Raskin plan to reprise the bill during the forthcoming legislative session and are cautiously optimistic about its chances of passing both houses. 

“Since the election, there’s a lot of new people, so there’s certainly an education curve there,” says Brinkley. “I’m optimistic that the Senate would probably take it in the same direction—I don’t see why not, especially as tight as we’ve made it—but the big hurdle remains in the House.” 

Raskin says “our prospects are excellent,” adding that the influx of new members could help push Vallario to act. 

“The principle that people should have access to the medical care that they need is a very popular one—the only questions people have about this are the devil in the details,” says Raskin. “We really rolled up our sleeves and got to work and spent hundreds of hours developing this proposal. It’s a seaworthy legislative vehicle.” 

The fact that the bill is even close to passing shows how far the issue has come, adds Raskin. “What’s startling to me is that when I first agreed to do it, there were politicians saying to me, ‘You don’t want to go near that, that’s politically toxic stuff,’” he says. “But I have gotten almost uniformly positive e-mail and correspondence on this.” 

Riffle adds that Maryland’s path toward legalization of medical marijuana follows a national trend that sees politicians lagging behind their constituents. 

“There are a lot of politicians out there who, just because of the stigma associated with marijuana, are afraid to touch it,” he says. “The voting public is ahead of the politicians on this one. The overwhelming majority of them support medical marijuana. No one really thinks that truly sick people whose doctors prescribe them marijuana should be arrested for that.”

When the bill comes up again this year, it will have two sponsors with powerful personal connections to the issue.  

via : Baltamore Magazine 

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