HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Bipartisan Bloc Backs Legalizing Medicinal
Pubdate: Fri, 09 Feb 2001
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2001 News World Communications, Inc.
Contact:  202-832-8285
Author: Margie Hyslop, The Washington Times


ANNAPOLIS - The move to make marijuana legal for medicinal use is gaining 
momentum in its second year before the Maryland General Assembly.

Prince George's County Democrat Sen. Ulysses Currie has joined Baltimore 
County Republican Delegate Donald E. Murphy in sponsoring legislation that 
would let seriously ill patients use marijuana to relieve persistent nausea 
or other debilitating symptoms without fear of arrest.

Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Rob Kampia says that of 25 
states considering legalizing medicinal marijuana use this year, Maryland 
is among the three most likely to approve it.

The group is a national organization that advocates decriminalizing 
marijuana, particularly - but not only - for medicinal use.

Under this year's measure - which is similar to one Hawaii enacted last 
year - the state health department would authorize patients as legal users.

Health officials would issue identification cards and certification that 
would serve to protect patients from arrest. That documentation would also 
protect caregivers of patients unable to cultivate and prepare the 
marijuana themselves as well as physicians who recommend its use.

Patients would be allowed to possess up to seven plants and an ounce of 
usable marijuana for each.

To qualify as an authorized user, a patient would have to get a physician's 
recommendation or provide medical records that indicate he could benefit 
from marijuana use.

Among illnesses that could qualify a patient are cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, 
epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease.

At least three of the 28 delegates co-sponsoring the bill are cancer 
survivors, one has glaucoma and several, including Mr. Murphy, have watched 
friends or relatives battle symptoms some contend are often best relieved 
by marijuana - still an illegal drug under state and federal law.

About a third of the House sponsors are Republicans; the rest are Democrats.

"I don't think you'll find another issue in this legislature that all these 
delegates agree on," said Delegate Dana Dembrow, a co-sponsor and 
Montgomery County Democrat, who called marijuana "an ancient herbal remedy."

Mr. Currie, who is joined by Prince George's County Democrats Nathaniel 
Exum and Paul Pinsky in sponsoring the Senate bill, likened allowing 
marijuana use for sick people to allowing morphine to relieve pain. Like 
morphine, marijuana wouldn't be legal for use recreationally.

But activists such as Joyce Nalepka believe medicinal marijuana use would 
open the door to full legalization.

And Mrs. Nalepka, a Silver Spring grandmother who founded a group to oppose 
such measures, contends that groups supporting medicinal use do so partly 
as a way to decriminalize marijuana.

"These young people have gotten the public so confused," Mrs. Nalepka said.

She says evidence is anecdotal and personal but not scientific, and that 
users should be worried about research that shows marijuana can contain 
unknown compounds and can weaken immune systems.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is unlikely to review the bill until it clears at 
least one chamber's committee, said spokesman Mike Morrill.

But Mr. Glendening would be concerned that the "message" such a measure 
sends could undermine the state's drug-fighting efforts and do more harm 
than good.

Last year, the bill died in the House Judiciary Committee on an 11-7 vote, 
and no such bill has yet been considered in the Senate.

Of the seven states that have approved medicinal marijuana use, all but 
Hawaii did so in referendums.

In 1998, 69 percent of D.C. voters approved legalizing marijuana for 
medicinal use, only to have Congress use its budgetary power to stop the 
city from loosening its drug law.
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