By Ethan Rosenberg
Capital News Service
Despite coming up short the last two years, several House legislators are trying again to legalize medical marijuana, while others are attempting to tighten restrictions on its synthetic counterparts.
Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, plans to reintroduce the Maryland Medical Marijuana Act to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would allow the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana through compassion centers for patients who have an ongoing relationship with a physician.
“People are suffering every day in the state of Maryland, and they are being subjected to going out on the streets to get the relief we should be providing,” Glenn said.
The General Assembly has a history of diluting legislation that would implement a broad medical marijuana system in Maryland.
During the 2011 session, the Senate introduced a bill that would have allowed the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene to authorize marijuana growers and to create a registration program authorizing distribution facilities for medical purposes. Glenn tried similar legislation in the House last year.
Neither bill was passed in its complete form. The Senate bill was signed into law, but was gutted down to an affirmative legal defense for patients suffering from a debilitating condition. The House bill was watered down to an affirmative defense for caregivers, but never received a vote in the Senate.
The House legislation defined caregivers as an immediate family member or domestic partner of a patient whose debilitating condition prohibits them from getting their own treatment. Glenn is sponsoring the reintroduction of the affirmative defense for caregivers as separate legislation this year.
“What I want to do is have a doctor-patient relationship rather than a dealer-patient relationship,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, who is co-sponsoring the affirmative defense bill. “For many people, (medical marijuana) is completely not appropriate, but for some it is, just like any medicine. It’s not benign, but neither is penicillin.”
Morhaim said that if Maryland does not broaden its position on medical marijuana, residents suffering from severe cases of cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other chronic illnesses may choose to seek treatment elsewhere. Nearby states such as New Jersey and Delaware, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed medical marijuana measures within the last three years.
“It’s a matter of persuading folks over time,” Morhaim said. “There are people sponsoring this bill this year who have never sponsored it before.”
Last year, Gov. Martin O’Malley threatened to veto any legislation allowing medical marijuana. Although he is open to having a conversation, the governor is not currently weighing in on the issue of medical marijuana, said spokeswoman Takirra Winfield.
The House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony for the affirmative defense bill for caregivers on Tuesday. A hearing for the Maryland Medical Marijuana Act has not yet been scheduled.
There are currently 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, that allow some form of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. There are 41 states that have passed legislation banning chemicals used in synthetic marijuana.
Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, introduced HB 0001 to add a number of chemicals found in synthetic marijuana to the state’s Schedule 1 listing, which labels controlled substances.
In July 2012, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which added the same chemicals found in synthetic marijuana, to the federal Schedule 1 list.
Though state schedules mirror the federal schedule through the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, states are able to amend their own schedules to list newly added chemicals.
“State prosecutors want to be able to see them listed,” said Kelly, who hopes that adding these chemicals to the state schedule will clear up any confusion regarding their legality.
This measure is meant to mimic legislation introduced last year that added chemicals found in "bath salts" to the state schedule.
“These types of substances are chemicals that act similarly to marijuana because they act on the same receptors in the brain,” said Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Director of Governmental Affairs Marie Grant in a House Judiciary Committee hearing testimony on Jan. 22.
“They are not the same thing as marijuana, they are much stronger and they have much more profound effects.”
The American Association of Poison Control Centers received 2,906 calls relating to synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 and Spice, in 2010, and nearly 7,000 in 2011.