Gov. O’Malley Has Pledged to Sign Bill Into Law
Broadly supported proposal allows residents with serious illnesses to obtain medical marijuana from state-regulated programs administered by academic medical research centers
ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly, with a resounding 42-4 vote, has given final approval to a bill that allows residents with serious illnesses to obtain medical marijuana via state-regulated programs administrated by academic medical research centers. The Senate passed HB 1101 Monday by a vote of 42-4; the House of Delegates approved it 108-28 on March 25. The bill will now be transmitted to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has pledged to sign it into law.
“This marks a major step forward for Maryland medical marijuana patients and their families,” said Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “The Assembly’s overwhelming support for this important legislation reflects that of the people of Maryland and the nation as a whole. The time has come to allow seriously ill people to obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help them.”
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that these research programs will be able to provide patients whose doctors recommend medical marijuana with any meaningful access to their medicine, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). The federal government maintains a complete prohibition on possession and distribution of marijuana, including for medical use, in addition to a policy of refusing to provide marijuana even for FDA-approved studies.
“Maryland has taken a small step in the right direction, but more steps are necessary for patients to actually obtain the medicine they need to alleviate their suffering,” said Amanda Reiman of the DPA. “Maryland has many workable and successful models to draw from: Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have successfully legalized marijuana for medical purposes despite the ongoing federal ban. Medical marijuana is used in those jurisdictions by hundreds of thousands of patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and other serious and debilitating illnesses.”
HB 1101, sponsored by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore), an emergency room physician, creates a commission through which academic medical research centers can apply to operate state-regulated programs that provide patients with marijuana grown by the federal government or state-licensed growers. Program applications will be required to specify qualifying medical conditions for treatment; treatment duration and dosage; where marijuana would be obtained; sources of funding; and a plan for monitoring data and outcomes, among other things. Sinai Hospital has expressed interest in the program, according to Del. Morhaim.
“We hope the state’s academic medical centers will take action and apply for the program so they can begin meeting the needs of Maryland residents suffering from debilitating medical conditions,” Riffle said. “Individuals suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious illnesses should not be forced to obtain their medicine in the underground market.”
The Natalie M. LaPrade Commission, named for the mother of Baltimore Delegate and bill co-sponsor Cheryl Glenn, will be an independent commission within the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). It will be comprised of 12 members: the secretary of DHMH or his designee; three physicians; a nurse; a pharmacist; a scientist; a medical marijuana patient; an attorney with knowledge of medical marijuana laws; and representatives of the state attorneys’ association, the chiefs of police, and the Maryland chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Gov. Martin O’Malley supports the bill, according to Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who said the governor previously opposed the legislation due to concerns that the federal government might prosecute state employees involved in the distribution of medical marijuana. Sharfstein told lawmakers O’Malley’s position has shifted because there have been no charges filed against state employees in other states that operate medical marijuana programs.