ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A measure to drastically reduce sentences for people
caught smoking marijuana for medical purposes survived attempts to gut it
through amendments Thursday in Maryland's House of Delegates.
Under the proposal, a $100 fine would be the maximum penalty someone could
face if they use or possess marijuana because of a medical necessity. There
would be no possibility of prison time. A vote on the bill could come early
next week.
Opponents of the bill attempted to alter it or change its effect entirely
during a debate Wednesday on the House floor. Del. James Malone, from
Baltimore County, tried to have the bill amended so that it would not go
into effect until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that
marijuana is a suitable treatment for those suffering from chronic disease.

Because federal penalties for marijuana possession could lead to significant
prison time, Malone said, "We're leading people with this bill into a false
sense of security that if they smoke marijuana the maximum penalty is $100."
Del. Joseph Vallario, from Prince George's County, the chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee, replied that federal authorities rarely pursue
marijuana cases, and such an amendment would effectively kill the bill. The
amendment was voted down 81-51.
Since 1970, marijuana has been a controlled dangerous substance under state
and federal drug prohibitions. Simple possession or use of marijuana can
bring penalties of up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.
The Judiciary Committee made alterations to the bill to avoid a conflict
with federal laws. "We're going to set a penalty that isn't particularly
high, but it is a penalty and it is a crime," said Del. Neil Quinter, from
Howard County, a member of the committee.
A measure that matched the House bill in its current posture passed through
the chamber last year, but was stymied in the Senate Judicial Proceedings
Committee. That committee, which gained a more liberal chairman after last
fall's election, plans to fashion the bill it's considering after the one
awaiting a vote on the House floor.
1:04 p.m. EST March 14, 2003