Pubdate: Wed, 25 Jan 2012 Source: Diamondback, The (U of MD Edu) Copyright: 2012 Diamondback Contact: http://www.diamondbackonline.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/758 Author: Jim Bach STATE TO WEIGH IN ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA Bill Would Enable Doctors to Prescribe Cannabis To Patients A bill that would enable doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients -- introduced in the House of Delegates earlier this month -- has attracted bipartisan support, moving Maryland closer to joining 16 states and Washington in legalizing the drug for medicinal purposes. Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City) drafted HB 15 -- also known as the Maryland Medical Marijuana Act -- which would allow doctors to prescribe the drug to patients suffering from severe pain and end-of-life ailments, as well as regulate the sale and growth of the drug in the state. Although opponents of the bill have argued that the legislation would lead to increased drug use, Glenn said prescriptions would only be used when "doctors have exhausted all other resources." The bill's purpose, Glenn said, is to provide patients with an easier path to acquiring the drug if prescribed by a doctor, rather than having to go through illegal channels. "I want people to have safe access," she said. "I want people to not be relegated to buying drugs on the street." While the Senate approved a bill in May that allows those prosecuted with possession of marijuana to cite a "debilitating condition" or a condition "resistant to conventional medicine" as a valid defense in court, the House bill establishes guidelines for legal and safe procurement of the drug and would replace the senate bill if passed. The bill will go before the Health and Government Operations Committee in the coming weeks, and Glenn said she expects a bill hearing to take place early next month. But some delegates, such as Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington), said because federal law prohibits any possession of the drug, it should not be passed at the state level. "It's not FDA-approved," he said. "Marijuana is an illegal substance." Del. Sheila Hixson (D-Montgomery), however, who has supported similar bills in previous legislative sessions, said that the medicinal use of marijuana could help alleviate complications brought on by certain cancers, provided the law drafts provisions as to who can grow and sell the drug. Hixson battled cancer 10 years ago, she said, and while she never used the drug herself, she knew people who could have benefited from its medical use. "I think that anything that works should be available, with restrictions of course," she said. Many student activists said because studies have shown the medicinal benefits of marijuana, they support the measure. Brandon Levey, former co-president of this university's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the bill's benefits outweigh any potential consequences. "I don't really see any rational argument against legalizing and regulating marijuana," he said. "There really are patients that need it." Some students said the Senate's version of the bill was an important first step for the state, but also said the House bill would be more beneficial. "The fact that this bill would essentially give us a real medical marijuana law is great," said former Vice President of SSDP Crystal Varkalis, who sits on the University Senate's Student Conduct Committee. "I'm definitely in full support." While Glenn said she does not expect the bill to pass the General Assembly in its current form, she said she hopes it will be amended and still provide safer patient access to the drug. Though some were initially resistant in supporting the bill, Glenn said, patient testimonies have shown delegates the potential positive impacts of the measure. "It's been very powerful and has moved many of my colleagues into acceptance," she said. "I think it's very important we pass this legislation." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.