Pubdate: Thu, 18 Aug 2011
Source: Prince George's Gazette (MD)
Copyright: 2011 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc.
Author: Daniel Leaderman


A team of lawmakers, doctors, law enforcement officials and patient
advocates will spend the next few months creating a plan and drafting
state legislation for medical marijuana to be legalized for use by
seriously ill patients.

The work group, which began meeting Wednesday and is chaired by Dr.
Joshua Sharfstein, state secretary of health and mental hygiene, was
created by legislation passed during the 2011 General Assembly session
to develop a model program for medical marijuana use in the state.

Under legislation proposed earlier this year to legalize medicinal use
of the drug, physicians could prescribe marijuana to long-term
patients -- such as those suffering from cancer -- for whom
conventional treatments haven't worked, and the state health
department would have regulated and licensed producers and
dispensaries. Sharfstein opposed those provisions in favor of further
study, arguing in March that more specific rules were needed on which
doctors could prescribe the drug and under what conditions.

Sharfstein said Wednesday that he was looking forward to working with
the group and saw it as a chance to use the state's resources to
develop a viable system.

The work group is charged with developing a proposal for providing
patients access to the drug, including drafting legislation to be
considered by the General Assembly in 2012 so the program could be
implemented by January 2013, according to the legislation.

The initial bill's lead sponsors, Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Dist. 11) of
Owings Mills and Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market, a
two-time cancer survivor, are members of the work group.

Morhaim, a physician, said the measure had a good level of support in
both the House of Delegates and the state Senate.

Sharfstein must submit the group's report by Dec. 1.

Medical use of marijuana is legal in 16 states and Washington, D.C.

Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies of the Marijuana Policy
Project and a member of the work group, said one of the key issues the
work group will examine is protecting patients from prosecution by the
federal government, which has ruled that the drug has no accepted
medical use.

"What's most important is that the work group come up with something
that actually works," O'Keefe said.
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