On Monday, the Maryland House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize medically approved marijuana use in the state by a margin of 108 votes to 28. It will now proceed to the Senate where it will be debated and voted on, possibly as soon as this week. If passed, House Bill 1101, sponsored by delegate Dan K. Morhaim among others, would establish a medical marijuana commission in the state through which academic and medical research centers could submit applications to operate medical marijuana dispensaries. It was proposed on February 8.
The bill would not take affect until fiscal year 2016, and would allow government approved dispensaries to distribute marijuana, which could be grown only by federally or state licensed centers. The dispensaries would then keep notes on any patients and be required to publish their findings. This program, if passed, would be one of the most restrictive and closely monitored medical marijuana programs in the country. Maryland would be joining Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, The District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington as states or districts that have some form of medical marijuana legislation in place.
The legal status of marijuana has become a more relevant topic in the national media recently, with the states of Colorado and Washington both approving measures that legalized recreational use of marijuana. Other states, such as Massachusetts and New Mexico have laws that decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Supporters of legalization have said that medical marijuana can be used to curb nausea and loss of appetite amongst AIDS and cancer patients as well as a painkiller for patients suffering from Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Detractors have pointed out that patients can receive many of the positive effects of medical marijuana by taking other drugs like Marinol rather than smoking it, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s official position on marijuana remains that it is a dangerous drug with little medical benefit.
Many politicians, media figures, and celebrities have endorsed the further relaxing of marijuana policy. Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Cuomo, and Jimmy Carter and Republicans, such as Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Rand Paul have come out in support of decriminalization, medical marijuana, or outright legalization. Many also support reform and reduction in the efforts to imprison or prosecute marijuana users. Some have argued that in addition to medical benefits, legalization would allow the government to tax the drug and make a significant profit while also allocating fewer resources to controlling the drug as well as hurting the economic interests of drug cartels.
However, opponents have been quick to point out that legalization would also make marijuana significantly more available to the general populace and potentially lead more people to start trying harder drugs, though it is still unclear whether there is legitimate medical evidence for marijuana as a “gateway drug.”
Bill 1101 has been backed by both Maryland Governor Martin O’ Malley and state Health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, and while other bills concerning marijuana have failed to pass the Maryland house, the bill's resounding victory in the House could indicate that it is ready to be passed, though it is not certain how the Senate will vote on it. Regardless, a decision can probably be expected sometime within the next 15 days, after which the Maryland general assembly will come to a close. The passage in the House at least gives some momentum to pro-medical marijuana advocates.