Pubdate: Sun, 11 Dec 2011
Source: Daily Times, The (MD)
Copyright: 2011 The Daily Times
Author: Jennifer Shutt, Staff Writer


SALISBURY -- After debate during this year's General Assembly session
failed to garner enough votes to pass medical marijuana legislation,
it is unclear where the issue will fall during the upcoming 2012 session.

While debate was passionate this year, actions during the past eight
months including a federal crackdown on dispensaries, inconsistencies
in federal versus state's rights and Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision
to focus on accumulating enough votes for legislation he considers key
could impact the upcoming medical marijuana debates.

Sen. Jim Mathias, who sits on the Senate finance committee,
co-sponsored legislation this year and plans to do the same next year.

"I know the challenges and the pain and the difficulty first hand and
I believe medical marijuana, under the appropriate circumstances, can
be helpful," said Mathias, D-38-Worcester. "I know as more and more
people live longer, more are being affected by this insidious disease,
and once you see it first hand or by association you understand it."

Mathias said while Marylanders may be apprehensive about allowing
marijuana into their communities, he encourages them to look at the
quantity of prescription narcotics as well as the problems alcohol and
tobacco can inflict on a community.

If medical marijuana legislation is passed in Maryland, Mathias
believes "society is adult enough and mature enough to be able to
handle this appropriately."

While its unclear if any legislation will pass, a study recently
released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene set forth two
variations of what the bills could look like.

The first proposal would place oversight within the DHMH with the
assistance of an advisory committee, while the second variation
suggests having growers, sellers and users monitored by an independent

The committee, chaired by Secretary of the DHMH Joshua M. Sharfstein,
departs from the strong stance against medical marijuana presented by
the department during this year's legislative session.

"I thank all work group members for their time and effort in
considering this challenging issue," Sharfstein said.

Members were allowed to sign to show their approval of one or both of
the proposals, with Major Kevin Anderson of the Maryland Chiefs of
Police, Major Sam Billotti IV of the Maryland Sheriff's Association
and several doctors approving of the first one. Dario J. Broccolino of
the Maryland State's Attorney's Office approved of both, while Michael
Young of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police chose not to sign
either proposal.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which was registered to lobby in
Maryland in 2011 and plans to lobby for medicinal marijuana again
during the 2012 session, believes the legislature will legalize marijuana.

Morgan Fox, the group's communications manager, said crackdowns
including one reported By USA Today on Nov. 29 in which federal
authorities closed 62 percent of dispensaries around San Diego are not
likely to happen in Maryland.

"The federal government seems to only be going after states without
clear and concise definitions for legal distribution for medical
marijuana," Fox said. "Any system that passes in Maryland is going to
be very clearly regulated and I don't think there will be any problems
insulating that system."

At the time of the raid, however, the Justice Department simply said
the sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law.

When President Barack Obama came into office he fulfilled a campaign
promise by telling the Department of Justice to focus on issues other
than raiding medical marijuana dispensaries. A June memo from Deputy
Attorney General James M. Cole, however referred to marijuana as a
"dangerous drug" and a "serious crime."

Fox said other states with clear and in many cases stricter
regulations, such as New Mexico, have not seen the volume of raids as
states such as California that have more liberal regulations regarding
what diseases qualify for a prescription.

"It seems very likely Maryland will allow marijuana to be used
medically," Fox said. "I also think it would be a good idea,
politically, to support it wholeheartedly because of the support
medical marijuana has." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.