Maryland advocates for medical marijuana say the state is sending mixed messages about using the drug to treat debilitating illnesses.
They are hoping to persuade lawmakers to create a task force to study the issue.
In 2003, the Maryland General Assembly approved less severe fines for people convicted of marijuana possession who can prove a medical necessity for the drug in court.
Seriously ill people can still be arrested, however, and fined up to $100 if convicted of possession or use of marijuana or related paraphernalia, even if they prove in court they have a medical necessity. Otherwise, violators are subject to fines of up to $1,000 and can face up to a year in jail for simple possession or use of the drug.
Delegate Henry Heller, D-Montgomery, said the 2003 law was "well-intentioned," but gives people a "false sense of security."
Heller, who says he doesn't use medical marijuana himself, said he is sponsoring legislation to study the issue after some his neighbors in a Silver Spring senior community told him they wanted to use marijuana to treat severe illnesses but were afraid of running afoul of the law.
Heller's proposal is to have a task force staffed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study legal and feasibility issues related to the research, use and procurement of medical marijuana. The group would have to issue a recommendation to repeal or maintain the state's current policy for medical marijuana.
Thirteen states have removed criminal penalties for patients who use and possess marijuana with their doctor's approval or certification, according to a Maryland Department of Legislative Services analysis. The task force would require additional general fund expenditures, however, to research and produce the report.
A number of medical marijuana advocates told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that Maryland is sending mixed messages about using marijuana to provide relief from debilitating illnesses such as cancer or HIV.
Howard County resident Suzi Rank told lawmakers she has used marijuana to battle the nausea that accompanied chemotherapy and steroid treatment for cancer and a blood disease.
Rank said she tried eight different anti-nausea medications from her doctor and was hospitalized twice for dehydration before she tried marijuana and "it helped like nothing else had."
"I have been a law-abiding citizen my whole life except for using marijuana," Rank said. "I feel like I am a typical medical marijuana patient, we are not out dealing drugs, we are your average person. I feel like I had to choose between my life, losing my life and breaking the law."
On the Net
Read House Bill 1339: http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/fnotes/bil_0009/hb1339.pdf
By Kathleen Miller
The Associated Press
8:06 PM EDT, March 24, 2009