An amended version of Maryland SB 308 has been approved by the state’s House and Senate and now goes to the desk of Governor Martin O’Malley, whose aids have indicated he plans to sign the bill. While not as robust as the original, SB 308 still allows for qualified medical marijuana patients to present an “affirmative defense” if they are being prosecuted for possessing and consuming their medicine. Here is an excerpt from a Marijuana Policy Project email alert:

“With the passage of this bill, the General Assembly has let seriously ill patients know they are not criminals for seeking relief from their pain and suffering,” said Senator David Brinkley, the primary sponsor of the Senate bill.” It will also establish a framework to build on in moving forward with more comprehensive solutions so that some day soon patients will be able to obtain their medicine in dignity and not on street corners. I thank my colleagues in both chambers for today’s compassionate vote.”

In its current form, the bill, SB 308, allows individuals diagnosed with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, to avoid conviction if charged with the non-public use or possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. An existing sentencing mitigation would remain part of the law, meaning patients who don’t qualify for the full affirmative defense would still have the opportunity to present evidence of medical necessity and have their sentence reduced to a $100 fine. In addition, a work group consisting of medical, legal, and law enforcement experts would be convened to recommend more comprehensive legislation next year. The bill represents a compromise after the Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene objected to a more robust proposal calling for state-regulated dispensaries due to the cost of implementation.

“Today’s vote is a move toward compassion for those who might benefit from this drug,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, the bill’s House sponsor and the General Assembly’s only licensed physician. “A growing body of evidence suggests marijuana is helpful in treating certain conditions, and seriously ill people who use marijuana to treat such conditions on the advice of their physician should not be considered criminals.”

“Under current law, patients using medical marijuana in Maryland face criminal arrest, prosecution and conviction,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, one of the sponsors in the Senate. “Although judges can reduce the penalty to $100 in these cases, we heard testimony from patients who said they have lost their jobs and were haunted for life by being branded as criminals. This legislation declares that severely ill people using medical marijuana are not criminals and will have the opportunity to establish medical necessity as a defense to a possession charge.  The removal of this threat and the creation of a work group to develop a Maryland model for a comprehensive medical marijuana regime moves us closer to the broader goal of giving patients in Maryland a legal way to obtain doctor-recommended medicine.”

Advocates were also encouraged by the compromise. “This isn’t a permanent solution, and it’s not everything that patients need, but it allows people suffering from debilitating conditions to sleep a little easier tonight while they wait for full protections,” said Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project.

Small, positive steps, always moving forward to our ultimate goal. Hopefully Maryland soon becomes the 16th state to remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana patients and next year maybe a full medical marijuana bill can be introduced and make its way through the legislature.

No matter what, advocates in Maryland – and in all states – need to stay aggressive and continue to push for full rights for medical cannabis patients. They must stand as examples to everyone of what can be accomplished as long as you keep moving forward.

There is no reason for a sick person to ever be prosecuted for choosing the option of medical cannabis. There is no one with the right to tell them they cannot choose that option.

17 Responses

  1. Tom Witkop

    Partly a question and partly an observation.

    My question, I defend people in Maryland accused of possession of marijuana. I have had several clients with apparently debilitating medical problems. They are sneaking marijuana on the sly. I tell them to contact NORML to find a physician to get a prescription to use medical marijuana. They are unable to do so. How are patients supposed to get medical marijuana legally?

    My observation, if I were a medical doctor I would be loathe to prescribe a drug without knowing the purity, the concentration, the ancestry, etc. In other words, how can I tell my patients to use marijuana in such a way that does not expose my patient to overdose, under dose or other problems. I am assuming that marijuana comes in various strengths and grades. I would want to know what my patient is getting. Further, I would want to be assured that clinical studies were done proving the effectiveness of marijuana for pain control. I am ignorant on the topic but perhaps someone can inform me whether double-blind studies using medical marijuana versus some placebo or other drug is an effective medical tool.

  2. Old Hippie

    Tom, good questions.

    Only relatively recently have people re-discovered the medical uses of cannabis, but still there are literally hundreds of studies that show its efficacy for pain as well as many other conditions.

    The situation is that marijuana is a plant, with many variations, and that plant has been cultivated and bred mostly for recreational use.

    So no, a doctor cannot expect to tell a patient to use 500 mg. of Cannabis Sativa, strain Northern Lights, once a day and know exactly how it will go. But s/he can tell the patient marijuana could be beneficial for that patient’s particular medical problem, and trying that amount and strain would be a good idea to start off with.

    This doesn’t mean that medical marijuana is sketchy in itself, simply that it’s not an exact science because plants have so much variation. It’s closer to the medical advice of “eat more fruits and vegetables”, yet a bit more specific. And any doctor will be relieved to know that nobody has ever died from using marijuana yet, so there’s no such thing as a fatal overdose.

  3. kathy

    I am hopeful!! I am in chronic pain and due to several renal disease, I cannot take prescription meds…I would definitely welcome anything that may help! Perhaps, if we produced it (maybe in the tobacco fields) we can regulate and tax it! I am sure this would benefit the status of all Marylanders and improve our state’s budget crisis!!!

  4. Tony Romeo

    Mr. Witkop,

    As an adult male , Maryland resident and sufferer of various chronic cardio -pulmonary conditions, I can shine a clear light onto the usage of cannabis as a safe and effective medicinal treatment. Hereitrary, genes and bad work environments caused me to suffer from chronic asthma , and then ,cardio-myopathy ( heart degreneration ) and then , finally, an SCA or sudden cardiac arrest. I have never tried any illegal narcotics ( cocaine, oxyxontin etc.). My only soulution was to grow some home-grown cannabis and make my tea / infussion daily to aleviate the tightness, stress and difficulty breathing I experienced. My home remedies were sucessful , yet I was stopped by police, who searched my home and pulled my plants out, and charged me. Now I have no natural manner in which to treat my day to day discomfort ( chest and rib-cage ) and bothersome side effects from my heart medications ( Coreg and lisinopril ) PLEASE talk to these legislators and tell them there are non-criminal, non-violent and law abiding , home-owning citizens who need cannabis for day to day treatment. This is like dealing with people who still think it’s 1950 and ” Reefer Madness ” is playing at the local theatre ! I cannot believe that educated , and largely ” liberal / Democrat ” Marylanders would think and act disregard for patients.

  5. Mark S. Klemm

    Thanks to all who made this happen. Please keep up the great work. I have been a criminal for 41 years, now I’m not. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂

  6. debbieb

    I too suffer from chronic back issues and have used marijuana for relief. I would much rather smoke marijuana than rely on the harsh pain meds that i’ve been prescribed. the side effects alone keep me from taking any of them. Since i live here in Maryland I would like to find out how one can become a grower and set up a store for medical marijuana, any ideas?

  7. Mark

    I live in Maryland and have chronic back pain. I use MJ to relieve myself of this pain and spasms that occur from it. I was in a couple of bad auto accidents a 15-18 years ago and my back has been killing me ever since. I have prescriptions for narcotics, but they are not as effective as they used to be. They also can harm my liver & kidneys with the long term use I have needed. This whole MJ legislation thing is taking too long for us in the trenches in Maryland. I don’t know how much longer I can take being a criminal. It’s not easy to find MJ in Maryland either for someone like me. We need dispensaries and compassion ASAP! Its killing me.

  8. Lyn

    “Animal tests have revealed that extremely high doses of cannabinoids are needed to have lethal effect. This has led scientists to conclude that the ratio of the amount of cannabinoids necessary to get a person intoxicated (i.e., stoned) relative to the amount necessary to kill them is 1 to 40,000. In other words, to overdose, you would have to consume 40,000 times as much marijuana as you needed to get stoned. In contrast, the ratio for alcohol varies between 1 to 4 and 1 to 10. It is easy to see how upwards of 5000 people die from alcohol overdoses every year and no one EVER dies of marijuana overdoses.”

  9. Bernie

    Thank you Maryland…for taking steps in the right direction.

    I can attest to the fact that smoking marijuana helps with major depression. I’ve been prescribed just about every psych drug on the market but none has helped me like marijuana does.

    I pray for the day when anyone, in any state, has safe access to marijuana.

    p.s. Delware…you rock too!!!

  10. Jay

    Bernie, can you desribe how Marijuana has helped with major depression for you? It has always been my fear that long term marijuana use can cause fatigue, fogginess, etc, but would be interested to understand more how it has helped with major depression. thanks…

  11. Charlie

    I have used marijuana for nausea and pain due to my recurrant breast cancer and recently lost my job when I refused to be drug tested only 7 weeks after my last of 2 recent surgeries. I don’t believe it is healthy to smoke anything and I wish Maryland laws would progress to a point where it could be dispensed in edible forms or teas. I prefer it to many of the meds I take that have side effects.

  12. BmoreOG

    I have been waiting for this for a while now. Next there needs to be a way to get the medical marijuana to the patients that need it. I for one have been smoking for about 10 years to help control my migraines. I started getting them at 7 and i am 29 now, and during that time i have tried just about every rx med there is for migraines and here is what i have found; Marijuana works to keep the migraines at bay, it is only when there is a strong trigger that i will actually get a full blown migraine. When i do i find that marijuana helps dramatically with the nausea and light sensitivity, and pain, but it doesnt stop the throbbing.

    When it gets so bad that marijuana can’t fix it i am forced to take Immitrex or one of the other 25$ and up triptan drugs. Without insurance some of the current migraine meds are upwards of 30$ each, even generic Immitrex, a drug that as been around for damn near forever, is still 25$ a piece. Drugs in this class have cardiac warnings, as well as weird side effects, I dont take them unless it is absolutely needed.

    Thanks to marijuana I get less migraines and accordingly dont need to take as much of the over priced rx meds that have nasty side effects.

  13. Elisa

    I have been living in pain for to many years. I have multible medical conditions and can not take medications because I am to sensitive to them. I get very sick if I take any medications. I have a tumor on my liver a causes me great pain if I take any sort of medication. I have been somking for my pain for I have fibromyalgia, IBS, Depression, etc…..

  14. Jack

    Im about to move to a medical state if I dont see some real progress soon. Im tired of paying almost a thousand dollars a month to be branded as a criminal.

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