Pubdate: Mon, 31 Mar 2003
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2003 News World Communications, Inc.
Author:  S.A. Miller,The Washington Times


ANNAPOLIS -- The Montgomery County grandmother leading a national antidrug 
crusade said the opposition paid top dollar to win passage of a 
medical-marijuana bill in the Maryland General Assembly but that she's 
hoping her low-budget lobby can persuade the governor to veto the legislation.

"I think their money won out over our facts," said Joyce Nalepka, whose 
small group of volunteers faced a $50,000 lobbying effort by the 
District-based Marijuana Policy Project, a group dedicated to 
decriminalizing marijuana use.

"The Maryland legislators sold out Maryland's kids for $50,000," she said. 
"They should hang their heads in shame. None of these legislators should be 

Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project disagrees that the $50,000 
spent in Annapolis and the group's annual $1.8 million budget compares to 
the $150 million advertising budget of White House drug czar John Walters, 
who personally intervened to oppose the Maryland legislation.

"How dare they claim that we are such a well-funded machine," he said. "We 
are tiny compared to this huge government drug-war machine."

The pro-marijuana group spent $40,000 pushing for the bill in Annapolis, 
including hiring lobbyist Gilbert J. Genn and conducting a direct-mail 
campaign. The group also donated $10,000 to legislative candidates in 
Maryland in the last election cycle, Mr. Mirken said.

Mrs. Nalepka said a little more than lunch money was spent by her group, 
Drug-Free Kids, which has thousands of volunteer members across the 
country, and alliances with Elks clubs and the National District Attorneys 

She says Drug-Free Kids received help from Mr. Walters and the district 
attorneys association but that the group's effort was strictly a 
grass-roots operation.

The bill advocating a "medical necessity" defense in marijuana-possession 
trials passed the Maryland Senate last week by a 29-17 vote. The House 
passed the same legislation last month 73-62.

Mr. Mirken said the bill is weak because it does not allow people to grow 
marijuana for medical use. However, he said, the win is an important step 
toward national decriminalization.

"While we have a war on drugs, can we please remove the sick and wounded 
from the battlefield?" he asked.

Debate on the Senate floor illustrated how convincing the pro-marijuana 
lobby had been, with lawmaker after lawmaker testifying that smoking 
marijuana helps people with AIDS, cancer and other illnesses because it 
restores their appetites and relieves nausea from chemotherapy or cancer 
radiation treatment.

Opponents of the bill say that softening the law sends the wrong message to 
children, medical marijuana doesn't have U.S. Food and Drug Administration 
approval and federal law still classifies marijuana as a dangerous and 
illegal narcotic.

If Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signs the bill, defendants who prove a 
medicinal need to possess marijuana will face a misdemeanor conviction, a 
maximum $100 fine and no jail time. The existing law prescribes sentences 
of up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for possession.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, supports the concept of medical marijuana but 
has yet to take a position on the legislation passed by the 
Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

"We are going to continue to try to convince the governor not to sign this 
bill," Mrs. Nalepka said.

She also said that three requests to meet with the governor had been turned 
down and that she is challenging Mr. Ehrlich to a debate if he plans to 
sign the bill into law. The administration has not responded, she said.

"If he signs it, I will do everything I can to make sure he is a one-term 
governor," Mrs. Nalepka said. "No governor is going to come into my state 
and sign this kind of legislation and not get a hard time from our group."
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