ANNAPOLIS - Legislators who want to revisit the battle over legalizing
medical marijuana are teaming up to draft a bill that will pass the General
Assembly this year.

Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll/Frederick, was one sponsor of a medical
marijuana bill that gained passage in the House of Delegates, but then died
in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last year.

The bill, a compromise constructed in the House Judiciary Committee, created
a medical defense for people who are arrested for possession of marijuana.
The medical defense would still allow state's attorneys to prosecute people
for possessing marijuana, but if the defendant can establish that there was
a medical necessity, the maximum penalty would be a $100 fine.

Despite the loss last year, Brinkley and other supporters are interested in
bringing the issue back to the legislature with the hope of making it
available for patients who could benefit from its use.

Joining Brinkley in his efforts are Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D- Baltimore,
and Del. Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore. They drafted their own bills, but
Hollinger, a nurse, and Morhaim, a doctor, decided to focus their bills on
the health benefits of medical marijuana rather than the prosecution of the

Last week, the three lawmakers and other supporters met to iron out their
differences and come up with a compromise bill. When they emerged from their
meeting, the legislators had agreed to focus their energy on Hollinger's

Her proposal would include:

Establishing the Medical Marijuana Research Program in the Board of
Physician Quality Assurance;

Allowing patients suffering from specific serious illnesses, their doctors
and, in some instances, the patient's primary caregiver to participate in
the research program with protection from arrest and imprisonment;

Requiring doctors to provide patients with written certification of the
potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana outweighing the health
risks for the individual;

Requiring the board to issue each participant a program participation card
that expires one year later;

Requiring patients and their doctors to provide information to the board on
the effectiveness of the use of medical marijuana on standardized forms
developed by the board.

The added benefit to supporting Hollinger's bill is that it will likely be
assigned to the committee she chairs, Education, Health and Environmental

Brinkley said that it was hard to argue with the logic behind the group's
decision to back the chairwoman's bill. But one of the biggest obstacles is
determining how to write the bill without violating federal law.

Federal law classifies marijuana as a schedule I, controlled-dangerous
substance. Under that classification, physicians cannot prescribe the drug.

"It looks like we'll have some issues with it," Brinkley said. "But if it
takes this different approach, I'm willing to try it."

He said that he and the other bill sponsors are going to gauge the interest
of lawmakers this week to determine which bill might gain passage.

Del. Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll, is a member of the Judiciary Committee that
drafted the marijuana bill compromise last year. She said that Hollinger's
bill probably wouldn't pass the General Assembly.

"The federal government says 'no,' " she said. "I think if we have any
chance at all, it is with the bill we passed last year."

She said that last year's bill didn't violate federal law because it was
still illegal to possess marijuana, it just created a new defense.

"There is no federal law that says it's an illegal defense," she said.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll/Frederick, is a member of the new House
Health and Government Affairs Committee. He said that the health bill might
be well received if it is written with the proper controls for distribution.

But, like most other committees, there are a lot of new lawmakers whose
opinions are unknown to the bill sponsors.

Both Brinkley and Morhaim, however, said that there are a lot of people who
support the idea of legalizing medical marijuana on both sides of the aisle.
Morhaim even pointed out that Gov. Robert Ehrlich supported legislation when
he was a member of Congress.

Hollinger, Brinkley and Morhaim will submit twin bills to the Senate and
House this week. Brinkley said that if it looks like the bill isn't getting
the support it needs, he would submit last year's bill under his name.

"It's a litmus test on both sides," Brinkley said. "I don't know where we
stand with the new people. ... That's why we have this drafted and I'm
waiting until Friday."

Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jan 2003
Source: Carroll County Times (MD)
Copyright: 2003 Carroll County Times