Pubdate: Wed, 23 Mar 2011
Source: Frederick News Post (MD)
Copyright: 2011 Randall Family, LLC.
Author: Meg Tully
Bookmark: (Maryland)


ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Senate is making major changes to a medical 
marijuana bill proposed by Frederick County Sen. David Brinkley.

The Senate is expected to take up final approval of the measure this 
week, after giving a preliminary OK on Tuesday to the bill and 
amendments proposed by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The bill will now allow people charged with use or possession of 
marijuana to argue before a judge that they did so out of medical 
necessity. If a judge agrees, the person would be found not guilty of 
the charge.

Additionally, the bill proposes a work group to come up with a model 
program to allow patient access to marijuana by 2013. The program 
would be through an academic medical research institution and would 
require further legislation before it could be implemented.

Brinkley said he felt the amended bill makes progress, and it is 
helpful to people who want to use an affirmative defense for 
marijuana charges. Under current law, they may use the medical 
defense and have punishment limited to a fine of less than $100, but 
would still be found guilty.

He doesn't think the new bill is perfect -- the original version he 
proposed with Delegate Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, 
would have established medical marijuana as a controlled dangerous 
substance and allowed doctors to prescribe it and pharmacies to dispense it.

Under the amended bill, patients "are still going to the black 
market, so we still don't have any type of legal mechanism for the 
acquisition of the substance, and that's what the study is supposed 
to get at," Brinkley said.

He envisions the state would solicit the help of the University of 
Maryland or Johns Hopkins University to help administer the program.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the state Department of Health 
and Mental Hygiene, said he supports the provisions of the bill that 
call for a work group.

Sharfstein testified against the original version of the bill, 
raising concerns about implementing the law and its scope. Brinkley 
said that change of heart basically nixed the bill -- the 
administration, under a previous health secretary, had supported it 
the year before.

Sharfstein said he believes the new academic-centered proposal is the 
best model for medical marijuana and would provide better oversight.

"Marijuana has very clear risks, and it really should be a 
yellow-light approach to protect the public," Sharfstein said.

The yellow-light approach was championed by the Institute of Medicine 
of the National Academy of Sciences committee in 1999. The institute 
recommended that marijuana be available for medical purposes through 
research programs. The treatment programs would be less than six 
months, used when other medication has failed, and require patients 
to be notified of potential risks of smoking as a delivery system, 
Sharfstein said.

He believes the work group will follow the Institute's model.

If approved by the Senate, the measure will next be sent for approval 
from the House of Delegates.  
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