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May 1, 2003

Medical Marijuana Revisited - Part 1

Michael Barnes

Is it possible that the Free(?)State is becoming more compassionate and understanding of those who choose alternative methods of pain control during their final days of life?

Don't count on it.

This year, finally, the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act passed both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who supports the states rights regarding the passage of laws dealing with medical marijuana.

This bill has been introduced for several years. With the removal of Senator Tim Ferguson, it looked like the bill in its true and most effective form would see the light of the Senate floor.

This bill has had very strong constituent support from every part of the state every time it has been submitted. In Frederick County, the bill had strong support within our legislative delegation. Over half of our delegation to Annapolis signed on as co-sponsors to either the Senate or the House version of the bill.

Unfortunately, the bill that passed barely resembles the bill that was originally introduced.

The first change was the name. Medical Research Act to Compassionate Use Act.

Next came the meat of the bill.

Originally the bill intended to establish a method for identifying medical marijuana users, providing protection from arrest, incarceration, unconstitutional asset forfeiture, and other protections for legitimate users of medical marijuana.

However, opponents of the bill watered it down to allow individuals who are arrested to introduce at their trial a "medical necessity." And if the "medical necessity" is found to valid and the person is still convicted, they can only be fined a maximum of $100.

Given our State’s Attorney Scott Rolle uneducated, ill-informed and intolerant attitude toward any type of marijuana use, most likely prosecutors will try to find a way to prohibit or throw out of court the "medical necessity" defense.

On a recent local radio talk show, Mr. Rolle described his opposition to this and any other similar bills. I am paraphrasing, but I believe he may have said it was a ‘useless, excessive bill.’

Of course, he also claimed that he liked to drink alcoholic beverages, an intoxicant known to be responsible for overdose deaths numbering in the thousands every year, apparently not knowing that there has not been one death in recorded human history from marijuana use. Hypocrisy and half-truths run rampant in his diatribes against drug use, marijuana in particular.

But this column isn’t intended to be a rant against our state’s attorney.

(Sidebar: If Mr. Rolle has Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s seat in his sight, I hope he is prepared to return to private practice. I think it will be a very cold day in a normally very hot spot if he gets elected to that position.)

So where does that leave us? Believe it or not, it leaves me actually agreeing with State’s Attorney Rolle about the uselessness and excessive nature of this bill in its final form.

It leaves us with a bill that has passed both houses of the state legislature that is nothing more than a feel good bill.

A "Hey! Look at us! We in Maryland feel compassionate about sick and dying people in our state" bill.

I still hope Governor Ehrlich holds true to his promise of support for this issue and signs the bill anyway.

I hope that next year our delegates and senators learn more about this drug, open their eyes and make the right decision by revising and amending state law to conform to the original intent of the Compassionate Use Act.

[Editor’s Note: Mr. Barnes will continue his discussion of this bill tomorrow on The Tentacle.]

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