Maryland Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) introduced a pair of medical marijuana bills in the state House on Thursday, the latest development in an effort to help Maryland patients with a doctor's recommendation access the drug.
Morhaim, a practicing physician board-certified in internal medicine and emergency medicine, told HuffPost that what he was trying to do was to get "a safe, secure supply of marijuana that's distributed in a safe way to those patients who need it, to change a dealer-patient relationship into a doctor-patient relationship, and to not put people at risk of turning sick people into criminals."
The first bill, HB 1158, would allow patients with a doctor's recommendation to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries under the oversight of an independent commission. Any doctor who completed specific state training could make such a recommendation. The second bill, HB 1024 -- which is championed also by Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene -- would emphasize the role of further drug research by requiring patients to go through a doctor at an academic medical center.
The bills stem from recommendations developed by an expert panel commissioned by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. The panel features two state delegates, including Morhaim, and two state senators, including David Brinkley (R-Frederick and Carroll Counties).
"The work group came out with two reports," said Morhaim. "I favor one over the other, but in honor of the fact that there was a work group and there was not consensus achieved, I felt it was only fair to put forward both reports." He added, "I'll make a strong case for the one I favor, and I hope it's convincing."
Requiring academic medical centers to grow and maintain marijuana could put their federal funding at risk, and some might refuse to participate, Morhaim said in explaining why he favors the first broader bill. Also, hospice patients, whose care centers are not linked with academic institutions and who might well need medical marijuana, would not have access to it.
In May 2011, Gov. O'Malley signed off on legislation removing criminal penalties for medical marijuana patients. But as the law stands, patients are still subject to arrest and prosecution even if they're subsequently able to demonstrate medical necessity.
The bills introduced Friday would protect patients with doctors' recommendations from arrest and prosecution. They would also restrict cultivation to state-registered growers.
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) is expected to sponsor similar legislation in the Maryland Senate.
"Last session the General Assembly decided that it is not a crime for very ill people in the State of Maryland to use marijuana for palliative purposes in accordance with medical advice," Raskin said in a statement on Friday. "What we left open was how such people can safely and legally access the drug. I'm determined that this session we come up with an effective mechanism for making medical marijuana available for the sick and suffering Marylanders who need it."
The proposed legislation comes on the heels of another medical marijuana bill, introduced by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), which would establish a dispensary system and allow patients themselves to cultivate limited amounts of marijuana.
Should the bills become law, Maryland would join 15 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing medical marijuana.