|Graphic: Patients for Medical Cannabis|
After a nine-year effort, one Maryland lawmaker may finally succeed this year in his quest to reduce criminal penalties for medical marijuana use.
Sen. David Brinkley (R-Frederick County) is one of the lead sponsors of a bill that would allow medical marijuana users to be found not guilty on criminal possession charges and would establish a study at a research university regarding the use of medicinal cannabis in general, reports Meg Tully at The Frederick News-Post.
The Maryland House of Delegates gave the bill a preliminary OK on Saturday. If the House acts — as scheduled — to vote on it Monday, then Brinkley said he thought the bill would become law.
|Photo: David Brinkley|
|Sen. David Brinkley, a cancer survivor, has fought for nine years to reduce penalties for those using marijuana for medical purposes in Maryland|
Brinkley, who survived cancer, became involved in the issue nine years ago when he sponsored a bill reducing penalties for those found guilty of possession of marijuana who were using it for medicinal purposes. The House of Delegates version of that bill became law in 2003.
Last year, Brinkley introduced a more sweeping bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state after the Obama Administration announced it would no longer prioritize the prosecution of patients or providers who follow their state laws.
That bill passed in the Senate, but not in the House of Delegates by the time the session ended. Brinkley’s bill this year, co-sponsored with Sen. Jamie Raskin and Delegate Dan Morhaim, would have set up a state-monitored program for growing and distributing marijuana for medical purposes. It has unfortunately since been watered down to only allow the medical use defense for a “not guilty” verdict (rather than a $100 fine as specified under the 2003 law), and to establish further study on a medicinal cannabis system for the state.
Although the bill is far less comprehensive than when it was originally introduced, Brinkley said the criminal provisions provide a stopgap while the state studies the medical marijuana issue.
“I don’t think that a person should go through the rest of their life with a criminal brand on them by virtue of trying to seek some kind of relief for a chronic or [debilitating]or some other condition that perhaps other medical remedies have not helped them with,” Brinkley said.
The bill would not apply if the marijuana was used in a public place, or if the defendant was in possession of more than one ounce.
Defendants would also be required to prove that they have a debilitating medical condition that is both severe and “resistant to conventional medicine.” The condition would have to be diagnosed by a doctor with whom the patient had a “bona fide physician-patient relationship.”
Because the bill only provides a defense to medical marijuana patients once charges are brought, it would still be illegal to sell marijuana, even for medical purposes.
People would continue to get marijuana through the same black-market channels they currently use, according to co-sponsor Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), the Maryland Legislature’s only medical doctor.
“We heard testimony from Maryland citizens that have been saddled with a criminal conviction, ruining their lives,” Morhaim said.
If the House passes the bill, the Senate would need to approve the House amendments before the session ends on Monday.
The votes are there to pass the bill in both houses, according to Dan Riffle, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project.
“It’s obviously not what we had hoped for, and it’s not a perfect bill, but it’s definitely a step forward and the most we could accomplish this year,” Riffle said.