By MIKE BOCK
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Less than a year after providing a legal defense for the possession of medical marijuana, proponents are now pushing for Maryland to legalize the drug for licensed patients.
Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, has introduced HB15, or the Medical Marijuana Act, which would authorize the use of the drug in Maryland by as early as September.
Sixteen states and Washington currently allow some form of medical marijuana, but it is still prohibited at the federal level.
HB15 builds on last year's SB308, which provides an affirmative legal defense for anyone who can prove that the drug has been used for medical purposes. However, Maryland law does not provide any legal means for obtaining medical marijuana.
SB 308 was originally intended to provide legal access to medical marijuana, but a number of amendments were made after a House Judiciary Committee meeting last March.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said at the meeting that more research was needed on the effectiveness of the drug as a medical treatment.
SB308 was revised to create the Medical Marijuana Model Program Work Group, a committee that submitted two proposals for medical marijuana legislation in its final report in December. Sharfstein served as the chair of the work group.
The first option would give academic medical research institutions such as Johns Hopkins University or the University of Maryland School of Medical distribution rights to medical marijuana.
The second would allow specially licensed doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients, provided they meet a specific set of symptoms.
Both proposals would leave cultivation in the hands of state-licensed growers.
HB15 falls more closely in line with the second proposal, as it does not rely on academic institutions for distribution.
The law would stress strict regulations that limit medical marijuana to patients with debilitating illnesses where no other effective treatment is available.
States such as California have passed laws that decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in addition to allowing medical marijuana to be used.
With HB15, only patients permitted to use medical marijuana and their doctors will be exempt from punishment. Non-licensed individuals can still be prosecuted for possession.
Last year's bill was sponsored by several delegates and senators, including Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll.
Brinkley intends to introduce a similar Senate bill in the following weeks.