The Maryland House of Delegates has voted to expand the use of medical marijuana.
Use of marijuana for medical purposes in the state is already legal, but the infrastructure established last year to distribute it isn’t viable in the eyes of most. Patients can only receive the drug at state supervised academic medical centers, but none of those facilities has agreed to participate.
The new legislation would allow specially licensed physicians to provide prescriptions for marijuana to patients with chronic debilitating medical conditions. The bill now goes to the Senate.
“This is not recreational use. This is strictly for medical marijuana only,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), one of the bill’s main sponsors. “You have to have an ongoing bonafide relationship with a doctor. And in the bill we describe the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for medical marijuana…
So, you can’t just say I have a headache. I want marijuana.”
According to Glenn the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission would enforce regulations established last year and be responsible for issuing the licenses for growers.
“Those licensed growers would then have treatment…dispensaries where the patients or caregivers would be able to get their prescription filled,” said Glenn, who is also one of the co-sponsors of the recreational marijuana use legislation introduced during the session.
“I always believed it was more important for us to first and foremost get our medical marijuana program up and running,” she said.
Other marijuana advocates don’t see the pending forms of legislation as either/or propositions.
“For medical marijuana, we’re really talking about seriously ill patients who need access to that medicine to treat their condition and for decriminalization, we’re talking much more about the racial disparity in communities of color being targeted by law enforcement for possessing marijuana,” said Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Yeung said legislation for recreational use in Maryland may not get passed this session, but the decriminalization bill still has a chance of passing in 2014.
“So, its two different issues and I don’t think just because there is a lot of support for both medical marijuana and decriminalization legislators should have to feel like they have to choose one or the other,” Yeung added.
According to a poll by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College released last week, 50 percent of Marylanders support decriminalizing marijuana while 89.6 percent support the drug’s use for medical purposes.
“Let’s also learn from what Colorado is doing and Washington State,” Glenn said.
“It’s always good to be able to look at best practices, so when you’re starting something that’s very controversial…it’s better to take your time. I look at it kind of similar to prohibition with alcohol. I think that eventually we’re going to get there, but I don’t think that we’re there yet.”