By Ethan Rosenberg for Capital News Service
The Maryland Senate Friday voted to approve medical marijuana use, putting Maryland one step closer to becoming the 19th state, along with the District of Columbia, to do so. The bill already passed the House 108-28.
A final Senate vote on the bill is expected by Monday when the General Assembly’s 2013 session comes to an end. Friday’s action came via voice vote and without any debate.
The bill, introduced by Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, would establish the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The Commission would be granted the ability to designate academic medical centers, such as the University System of Maryland or Johns Hopkins, to distribute marijuana to patients who have received a recommendation from their physician.
“I think the public opinion has changed on this across the political spectrum. People understand that if somebody's sick, they deserve medication,” Morhaim said.
Morhaim said Sinai Hospital in Baltimore has expressed interest in participating in the program. While the University System of Maryland and Johns Hopkins have not, Morhaim is optimistic they will come around.
“Once they see how the road map is, then I think they will analyze it and see if they want to pursue it or not,” Morhaim said.
Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, a bill co-sponsor, initially had her own medical marijuana legislation, but it was withdrawn. The medical marijuana commission established by Morhaim's bill is named after Glenn's late mother who died from kidney cancer.
“This is the first time for Maryland to establish a program of any kind for medical marijuana," Glenn said. "It's opened the door. I'm really excited and supportive."
The state currently has an affirmative legal defense for individuals suffering from debilitating chronic illnesses.
The Senate passed a House measure Wednesday that would expand the affirmative legal defense to caregivers who provide marijuana to individuals too sick to seek out their own treatment. The Senate version of the bill was passed in the House on Monday, 95-37.
The General Assembly will leave behind two other marijuana measures this session. One, introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, would have decriminalized marijuana possession for less than 10 grams. The measure passed in the Senate 30-16, but has not received a vote from the House Judiciary Committee.
"It's the right thing to do. If it doesn't pass this year I will bring it back next year and every year until we do it,” Zirkin said. “I don't believe people should be incarcerated for having small amounts of marijuana. I think the tide of this issue is clearly on our side. Sooner or later it will happen."
Another bill by Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, that would have legalized recreational marijuana use, has not yet received a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill would have enacted a 50 percent excise tax on marijuana sold wholesale and permitted individuals to grow limited quantities of pot with the purchase of a state issued identification for $100 per year and per plant.
During the November election, constituents in Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures that legalized recreational marijuana usage.
Since then, 27 states, including Maryland, have introduced legislation to implement a medical marijuana law, decriminalize possession, or tax and regulate marijuana usage, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group based in the district.