Pubdate: Wed, 02 Mar 2011
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2011 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: David Hill
Bookmark: (Maryland)


A Maryland lawmaker is attempting to salvage a bill that would
legalize medical marijuana after the state's top health official
testified that provisions regulating the drug's use and distribution
were inadequate.

Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, Baltimore County Democrat and the bill's
co-sponsor, said he is working to address concerns raised Monday by
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of Maryland's Department of Health
and Mental Hygiene (DHMH).

Dr. Sharfstein testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that
although he thinks the state eventually could make marijuana available
to residents with many severe illnesses, it first needs to determine
how to fund and supervise such a program.

He said he remains concerned about the drug's potential negative
effects, such as memory loss and pregnancy complications, and he
called for "at least several years" of research and planning before
the drug is made available in the state.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, in the past has shown
reservations about the legalization of medical marijuana. His office
said Tuesday that Dr. Sharfstein's concerns were "legitimate."

Mr. Morhaim, the House's only medical doctor, said it was uncertain
whether the bill's supporters could address Dr. Sharfstein's concerns
before the end of this year's General Assembly session, scheduled for
April 11.

"I'm happy to work with the health secretary, and we'll all work hard
to see what we can accomplish this year," he said. "We want to have
the best product possible that does the most good."

The House appeared poised this year to pass a medical marijuana bill
after it allowed a similar bill passed last year by the Senate to
stall. This year's House bill had 61 sponsors, just 10 short of the 71
votes needed for passage.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical

Mr. Morhaim has worked to legalize medical marijuana for the past two
years, arguing it has been shown to reduce pain, nausea and loss of
appetite in patients undergoing chemotherapy and suffering from such
diseases as AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. His bill would allow
patients to receive medical prescriptions for marijuana and acquire it
from certified dispensaries and pharmacies. DHMH and the state
Department of Agriculture would oversee growth and distribution of the

The blunt criticism from Dr. Sharfstein, appointed to the O'Malley
administration in January after serving as a deputy commissioner at
the Food and Drug Administration, took many observers by surprise. His
predecessor, John Colmers, took no official position on the bill
passed by the Senate last year.

While Dr. Sharfstein acknowledged reports of the drug's positive
effects and praised the bill's efforts to regulate distribution, he
said more research is needed to determine whether such regulation is
feasible and whether the drug's positives outweigh its negatives. 
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