Medical Marijuana Legislation Advances in Several States: Maryland, New Mexico, Texas Hold Hearings; Massachusetts, Vermont Introduce Bills

NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup testified before the Maryland House and Senate this week in support of legislation that would allow qualified patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“While NORML’s ultimate goal is to amend federal law so physicians may prescribe marijuana legally, we whole-heartedly support the efforts of states like Maryland to protect its most vulnerable citizens – the seriously ill and dying – as best it can under state law,” Stroup said. “The scientific and historical record support the use of marijuana as a medicine, and many patients find it to be the most effective way they can alleviate their pain and suffering. We must not in good conscious deny them that medication.”
Maryland Senate Bill 705, introduced by Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s County), is similar to laws recently passed in nine states which exempt medical marijuana patients and their caregivers from state arrest and criminal prosecution. The proposal would also establish a state-run patient registry that would issue identification cards to qualifying patients. Kelly Paige, manager of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program – that state’s confidential patient registry – testified that their system is working as voters intended and does not conflict with federal law. “With a larger than expected patient registration and physician participation, and with no wide-scale criminal abuses, it would be safe to deem the program quite successful,” she said. “[We are] pleased that Oregon’s initiative and registration system are serving as models for other states.”
While Stroup applauded the legislature’s decision to hold hearings on the use of medicinal marijuana, he admitted that both S.B. 705 and its companion bill, H.B. 940, introduced by Del. Donald Murphy (R-Baltimore County) and 28 co-sponsors, face an uphill battle. “We’ve clearly gained support in the House, but face a significant hurdle in the Senate,” Stroup said, noting that Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Walter Baker (D-Cecil County) warned colleagues that “this bill isn’t going anywhere.”
Maryland’s proposal was one of several medical marijuana bills debated in recent days. Last week, a pair of New Mexico bills legalizing the possession of marijuana for medical purposes passed committees in the House and Senate with bi-partisan support. Both bills now await action before their house’s respective judiciary committees.
Texas lawmakers also debated legislation this week that would allow qualified medical marijuana patients an “affirmative defense of medical necessity” against state criminal prosecution. House Bill 513, introduced by Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin), a sheriff and former prosecutor, is the first of its kind to be debated by the legislature. Texas NORML State Coordinator Rick D. Day testified in support of bill, and said that he anticipates the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will approve it next week. “The wording of the bill avoids conflict with federal law, and the background of the sponsor cuts through the skepticism of individuals in law enforcement,” he said.
Earlier this week, legislators in Massachusetts and Vermont introduced proposals to aid medical marijuana patients. In Massachusetts, lawmakers have endorsed a pair of proposals to extend legal protections to patients who possess and/or cultivate medical marijuana to treat a debilitating illness. In Vermont, Rep. Fred Maslack (R-Poultney), is leading a bi-partisan coalition of more than 20 lawmakers in support H.B. 364, which seeks to exempt medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution under state law, as well as establish a state-sanctioned, non-profit corporation to distribute medical marijuana.
For more information on these bills and other pending marijuana-law reform legislation, visit: http://capwiz.com/norml2/issues/.