Pubdate: Sun, 11 Apr 2010
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2010 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Annie Linskey
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - United States)


Proponents See Progress in State Senate's Approval

The Maryland Senate voted 35-12 on Saturday to give sick people 
access to marijuana, sending a strong message that the upper chamber 
is serious about the controversial idea.

House leaders have said they will not take up the measure this year. 
The legislature's 90-day session ends on Monday.

Nevertheless, advocates hailed the Senate vote as a victory. "We are 
very happy," said Mike Meno, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy 
Project, a national organization promoting medical use of pot. "To 
vote by such a margin means that the Senate is in line with public 
sentiment nationally and here in Maryland."

Senators from both parties supported the measure, which builds on a 
Maryland law passed in 2003 that allows leniency to defendants 
charged with marijuana possession if they can show a medical need.

"I think the Senate recognized the plight of people who have sick and 
chronic conditions," said Sen. David Brinkley, one of the lead 
sponsors and two-time cancer survivor. The Western Maryland 
Republican said he views the issue as a libertarian cause.

Fourteen states allow medical use of marijuana. Private dispensaries 
have become a cottage industry in California and Colorado, prompting 
a backlash from citizens who view the policy as de facto 
legalization. The Obama administration had signaled that federal 
authorities would not crack down on medical uses, though there have 
been federal raids in some states.

Sponsors said the Maryland bill was crafted to avoid the criticism 
that has arisen in other states. The plan would require patients to 
have a long-standing relationship with the prescribing doctor and 
requiring the state to license any dispensaries.

Opponents in the Senate included Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore 
Republican who views marijuana as a "gateway drug" and worries about 
heading down a path toward full legalization. "It is a terrible idea," he said.

The two doctors in the General Assembly have been split on the issue. 
Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County anesthesiologist who is 
running for Congress, said he'd be more likely to support the measure 
if the number of recipients were capped. Harris offered several 
changes to the legislation, but they were rejected.

Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and emergency room 
doctor, helped to write the bill saying he consulted with the 
Maryland State Police. He said he was "very excited" about Senate 
passage and said he hopes Saturday's action "prompts the House to 
take a fresh look at it." Both chambers met for hours Saturday, 
passing other key measures:

The House approved the final version of the state's $13 billion 
spending plan, which already has Senate approval.

The House gave preliminary approval to a 3-percent tuition cap at 
public universities.

The Senate delayed a vote on a ban on reading text messages while driving.

The Senate amended a House-passed slots bill to allow card games at 
Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County, a measure the House opposes.

The Senate gave final approval to bill allowing a judge to shield 
records of peace orders or protective orders from public databases. 
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