Pubdate: Thu, 03 Apr 2003
Source: Bay Weekly (MD)
Contact:  2003 Bay Weekly
Author: Paul Scott Armentano
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Marijuana's Still Illegal, But It's A Lot Less Illegal If The Toker's Sick

The fourth time may prove to be the charm for state lawmakers and patients
battling to protect Marylanders who use marijuana therapeutically. 

Last week, senators overwhelmingly approved the Darrell Putman Compassionate
Use Act, which enacts a legal distinction between the medicinal and the
recreational use of marijuana. The Maryland House of Delegates had already
passed the bill by a 73 to 62 vote.

Under the proposal, named for decorated Army
officer-turned-medi-pot-advocate Darrell Putman (who died of cancer in
1999), patients who demonstrate at trial that their marijuana use is for a
legitimate medical need would face a maximum penalty of a $100 fine and no
jail time. 

"There's a subset of patients for which conventional therapy has not worked
and for whom smoking marijuana really helps," explains Del. Dan Morhaim, a
Baltimore County Democrat who co-sponsored the bill in the House. A
practicing physician for more than 25 years, Morhaim says he's had patients
suffering from diseases such as AIDS and terminal cancer tell him that
they've experienced symptomatic relief using marijuana. For patients
unresponsive to standard medications, marijuana is simply "another tool in
the toolbox," he says. 

For Kathleen 'Kitty' Tucker of Takoma Park, best known as an attorney in the
case of nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood, it's a tool with proven
results. Tucker admitted using the drug therapeutically in 1999 after police
found marijuana growing in her home. Since Maryland law made no exception
for the medical use of marijuana, Tucker -- who used pot to treat the daily
migraines and spasms she suffered from as a result of fibromyalgia --
eventually pleaded guilty to attempted propagation of marijuana. 

Under the proposed law, patients like Tucker would be able to argue their
medical use in court. "I hope that our governor signs this legislation so
that medical marijuana users will have the right to prove to a judge that
his or her illness can be helped by marijuana," says Tucker. Still, she
believes that the proposal is only "a baby step forward in restoring our
citizens' right to use this valuable herbal medicine." 

It's a baby step that began as no more than a crawl four years ago when a
small coalition of lawmakers, led by former Del. Donald Murphy of
Catonsville, introduced a broader version of the bill. Last year, delegates
passed legislation identical to this year's measure, but it was defeated by
one vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. This year's measure
passed that committee 6 to 5, a feat made possible partly by the defeat of
Sen. Tim Ferguson -- who cast last year's deciding vote against the bill
after having previously agreed to shepherd it through the committee. In part
because of his flip-flop on the medical pot issue, Ferguson lost last fall's
primary to Sen. David Brinkley. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican who
was diagnosed with cancer in 1989, is a longtime supporter of medicinal
marijuana reform and a co-sponsor of this year's Senate bill.

Brinkley says he backs the law change from "a patient's perspective," adding
that the limited use of medicinal marijuana under a doctor's supervision
"just makes sense.

"When you have seriously ill patients forced to make decisions about their
health treatment, do we want our drug laws to be particularly harsh if they
or their doctor thinks this substance can help them?" he asks. 

Brinkley last week argued on the Senate floor that he'd witnessed "a lot of
sick people" benefit from medicinal marijuana, and that these patients
"aren't the people we want to prosecute."

Other senate proponents told similarly personal tales, including Prince
George's County Democrat Nathaniel Exum, who recounted how his 25-year-old
daughter died from cancer in 1993. "If we could have gotten her marijuana,
we would have done that for her," he said.

Though the bill is not out of the woods yet, early indications are that Gov.
Robert Ehrlich will back the bill, despite pressure from Bush administration
'drug czar' John Walters, who has publicly criticized the measure as
"irresponsible" and "immoral."

In January, the governor publicly stated his support for the medical use of
marijuana, adding that the issue holds "personal" significance to him. "We
saw a very, very strong person taken down inch by inch" by cancer, Ehrlich
said concerning a relative whom he declined to identify. As a congressman,
Ehrlich backed legislation that sought to allow physicians to legally
prescribe medicinal marijuana. He's yet to take a specific position on the
Darrell Putman bill, but he has indicated that he's leaning toward signing
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