Maryland Protects Pot Patients

Maryland's General Assembly today rebuffed White House "Drug Czar" John Walters, becoming the second state legislature to protect medical marijuana patients from the threat of jail. Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), who cosponsored the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is expected to sign the measure into law.

Maryland law presently provides penalties for marijuana possession of up to a year in state prison and a $1,000 fine. Under S.B. 502, which the Senate passed today by a 29-17 vote, patients using marijuana to treat the symptoms of illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and Crohn's disease would face no more than a $100 fine.

Seven of the existing state medical marijuana laws -- in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- were enacted via ballot initiatives. In 2000, Hawaii became the first state to pass a medical marijuana law through the state legislature.

Drug Czar John Walters made a last-ditch attempt to stop Maryland's bill on Monday, calling it a "cynical, cruel and immoral effort to use the sick and suffering," according to the Associated Press.

"Today is an historic day," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "The Maryland legislature has shown the courage to defy the federal drug czar by reducing penalties for medical marijuana, right in the backyard of a hostile White House. Unfortunately, the bill is weaker than the laws in the eight states where medical marijuana is legal. The bill protects marijuana-using patients from jail, but they can still be arrested, handcuffed, prosecuted, and forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees."

"I am proud of the Senate for ignoring the last-minute campaign of lies conducted by John Walters," said Erin Hildebrandt, a medical marijuana patient and mother of five from Smithsburg, who testified for the bill. "Crohn's disease used to leave me too sick to even get out of bed, other than to go to the bathroom or the doctor's office, until I discovered that marijuana helped me more than any medicine I had ever tried. Medical marijuana literally gave me my life back. It is John Walters who is `cruel, immoral and cynical,' not the people working to protect patients."

"John Walters lost this battle because science, compassion, and common sense -- not to mention 80 percent of the American people -- are on our side," Kampia added. "We will be back next year to enact full legal protections for patients, and we expect to win."

With 11,000 members nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.

Marijuana "Decriminalization" Bills In Six States

  • CALIFORNIA might tweak its existing "decrim" law to change the existing $100 misdemeanor (criminal) penalty for marijuana possession to a $100 civil penalty. The bill is pending in committee.

  • CONNECTICUT is considering legislation that would make possession of less than four ounces of marijuana punishable by a civil violation and fine, rather than jail time. The bill is pending in committee.

  • MASSACHUSETTS is looking at legislation that would impose a $100 civil fine for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. A hearing is scheduled for April 9.

  • MICHIGAN is considering a bill that would remove the threat of jail or a criminal record for first-time marijuana possession offenses, allowing for drug treatment or community service to be mandated instead of other penalties. The bill is pending in committee.

  • OKLAHOMA's bill -- which would impose a $500 fine rather than jail time for up to 17 ounces of marijuana, repeal some mandatory minimum sentences, and authorize community service and treatment instead of jail for some offenders -- passed the Senate on March 12 with a 26-19 vote. This important bill is now pending in a House committee.

  • TEXAS is looking at legislation that would impose up to a $500 fine but no jail time for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana; the bill is pending in a House committee. (Amazingly, similar legislation was passed by a House committee during the 2001 legislative session, only to fail to receive a vote on the House floor.)

Medical Marijuana Bills In 14 States (Including Maryland And Vermont)

  • ARKANSAS voted down its bill by a voice vote (with at least six votes in favor of the bill) on March 11 in committee, where former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders had testified in support of the bill.

  • CALIFORNIA is looking to clarify its existing medical marijuana law with a bill that would direct police not to arrest patients with medical marijuana identification cards (which would be optional for patients).

  • CONNECTICUT could go either way on its medical marijuana bill. The 43-member House/Senate Judiciary Committee is split down the middle and is expected to vote at the end of this month.

  • IOWA has not taken action on its bill, which is pending in committee.

  • MASSACHUSETTS will almost surely not pass its medical marijuana bill as long as it remains in its current committee, which is co- chaired by a hostile legislator.

  • MISSISSIPPI took no action on its bill, which died in committee on February 4.

  • MISSOURI only recently had a bill introduced; the bill will not pass in that conservative legislature.

  • MONTANA surprised everyone when a committee passed the bill by a 12-5 vote on February 21. Unfortunately, the House killed the bill by a 60-40 vote on February 26.

  • NEW MEXICO's House defeated its bill by a 46-20 vote on March 6, even after three committees pushed the bill to the floor with 9-1, 9-3, and 8-0 votes. This defeat is bitterly disappointing, given that both the House and Senate passed similar legislation last year, only to run out of time before the bill could be sent to the governor.

  • NEW YORK is considering a medical marijuana bill that was introduced by the chair of the Assembly Health Committee and co-sponsored by 27 of his colleagues. In the meantime, the New York City Council is expected to pass a resolution in support of the state bill.

  • RHODE ISLAND is expected to vote on a bill in committee sometime soon. Similar legislation has failed to pass in the past few legislative sessions.

  • WYOMING broke new ground when a committee passed MPP's bill by a 3-2 vote on February 5. Unfortunately, the Senate leadership decided to let the bill die without bringing it to a vote on the Senate floor.

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