Pubdate: Sun, 10 Apr 2011
Source: Frederick News Post (MD)
Copyright: 2011 Randall Family, LLC.
Author: Meg Tully
Bookmark: (Maryland)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


ANNAPOLIS -- Frederick County Sen. David Brinkley may succeed this 
year in his nine-year quest to reduce criminal penalties for medical 
marijuana use.

Brinkley, a Republican, is one of the lead sponsors of a bill that 
would allow medical marijuana users to be found not guilty on 
criminal possession charges and would establish a study at a research 
university regarding the use of medical marijuana in general.

The House of Delegates gave the bill a preliminary OK on Saturday. If 
the House acts -- as scheduled -- to pass it on Monday, then Brinkley 
said he thought the bill would become law.

Brinkley, a cancer survivor, became involved in the issue nine years 
ago when he sponsored a bill that reduced penalties for those found 
guilty of possession of marijuana who were using it for medical 
purposes. The House of Delegates version of that bill became law in 2003.

Last year, Brinkley introduced a more comprehensive bill to legalize 
medical marijuana in the state after the federal attorney general 
made comments that the federal government would not prosecute those 
participating in a legitimate state medical marijuana program.

That bill passed the Senate but not the House of Delegates by the 
time the session ended. Brinkley's bill this year, introduced with 
Sen. Jaime Raskin and Delegate Dan Morhaim, would have set up a 
state-monitored program for growing and distributing marijuana for 
medical purposes. It has since been amended to allow the medical use 
defense for a "not guilty" verdict, and to establish further study on 
a state system.

Although the bill is not as comprehensive as when it was originally 
introduced, Brinkley said the criminal provisions provide a stopgap 
while the state studies the issue.

"I don't think that a person should go through the rest of their life 
with a criminal brand on them by virtue of trying to seek some kind 
of relief for a chronic or (debilitating) or some other condition 
that perhaps other medical remedies have not helped them with," Brinkley said.

The bill would not apply if the marijuana was used in a public place 
or if the defendant possessed more than 1 ounce.

The defendant would have to prove that he or she had a debilitating 
medical condition that was severe and resistant to conventional 
medicine. The condition would have to be diagnosed by a doctor with 
whom the patient had a "bona fide physician-patient relationship."

Because the bill would provide a defense to patients only once 
charges were brought, it would still be illegal to sell marijuana -- 
even if it were used for medical purposes.

Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, said people would continue to 
get marijuana through the same channels they currently use.

"We heard testimony from Maryland citizens that have been saddled 
with a criminal conviction, ruining their lives," Morhaim said.

Delegate Theodore Sophocleus, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County, 
raised objections to the bill on Saturday and unsuccessfully sought 
to delay it.

A former practicing pharmacist, he said it didn't make sense for the 
state to approve a drug that was illegal and not available at 
pharmacies. He said there was no way of telling if the marijuana was pure.

"We're saying that's OK because we are going to do a study later on 
- -- on a program we've already started?" he asked.

House Minority Leader Tony O'Donnell, a Republican who represents 
Calvert and St. Mary's counties, said the criminal pardon is a large 
policy departure for the state because it would punish those selling 
marijuana but not those using it.

If the House passes the bill, the Senate would need to approve the 
House amendments before the session ends on Monday.

Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, 
said the votes were there in both houses.

If passed, Maryland would become the 16th state in the country to 
remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana patients, he said.

"It's obviously not what we had hoped for, and it's not a perfect 
bill, but it's definitely a step forward and the most we could 
accomplish this year," Riffle said.  
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