Baltimore - The White House drug czar urged Gov. Robert Ehrlich on Thursday
"not to be conned" into approving measures to reduce criminal penalties for
seriously ill people who smoke marijuana to ease their symptoms.

Special interests seeking to legalize marijuana have duped Maryland
lawmakers into trying to soften drug laws, said John Walters, director of
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Speaking at the Dr. Lonnie E. Mitchell National Substance Abuse Conference,
Walters even warned of possible lawsuits if people are sickened further by
smoking marijuana.

"If the state puts the state taxpayer and the government of the state on
the hook, it will probably risk the consequences of those who are harmed
saying: 'You are a party to that harm,"' Walters said.

Last week, the state Senate approved legislation on a 29-17 vote to
substantially reduce penalties for seriously ill people caught smoking
marijuana as a way of easing their symptoms.

The measure would set a maximum fine of $100 and no jail time for
defendants who can convince a judge they need to smoke marijuana for
medical reasons. Under current law, simple possession or use of marijuana
can bring penalties of up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.

The House has already approved a similar bill, and supporters believe they
have an excellent chance of getting one or bo! th bills to Ehrlich.

Ehrlich supported medical marijuana use when he was in Congress. But he has
not taken a position on the bills passed in the General Assembly.

"Governor Ehrlich maintains his position of supporting the concept of
medical marijuana, but will listen to all interested parties before signing
any bill of this nature into law," Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver
said Thursday.

Supporters of the measures say smoking marijuana can alleviate the symptoms
of serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis and
Crohn's disease. They also say they can help patients suffering from nausea
hold down food and medications.

Walters disputed those claims, saying modern medicine has better ways of
treating chronic pain.

He also said Baltimore likely has suffered more than any other city in the
nation from drug addiction, and he called it an "an outrage" for Maryland
legislators to support easing drug laws in any way.

He said it would be! malpractice for a physician to treat a patient with
"weed." "We ha ve the most sophisticated medical institutions in the
history of man," he said. "We don't use smoked weeds."

Seven states with medical marijuana laws enacted them by ballot
initiatives, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a group working to
reform marijuana laws. In 2000, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law
through the state legislature.

Walters said progress toward passing the laws in Maryland is not an
indication that other states are moving toward easing penalties on
marijuana for medical reasons.

"More states recognize the seriousness," Walters said. "More people
recognize the dangers of marijuana. We're going to try to increase that
awareness."


Source: Associated Press
Author: Brian Witte, Associated Press Writer
Published: Friday, April 04, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press