Pubdate: Sun, 11 Dec 2011 Source: Daily Times, The (MD) Copyright: 2011 The Daily Times Contact: http://www.delmarvanow.com/customerservice/contactus.html Website: http://www.delmarvanow.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/116 Author: Jennifer Shutt, Staff Writer MEDICAL MARIJUANA ISSUE MAY RISE AGAIN 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 commission. 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." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.