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Marijuana bill dies

April 08, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A medical marijuana initiative that had passed the Maryland House of Delegates earlier this session died by one vote in a Senate panel Friday.

The 6-5 vote upset the bill's sponsor, Del. Donald Murphy, who accused one of the senators on the panel of breaking his promise of support.

Murphy, R-Baltimore/Howard, said Sen. Timothy Ferguson had given his word he would vote for legislation that would have removed the threat of jail time for cancer patients who use marijuana to ease their pain.

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Ferguson, R-Frederick/Carroll, denied he made any commitment to Murphy.

"I said I would shepherd the bill," he said.

By that, Ferguson said, he meant he would count votes of fellow Judicial Proceedings Committee members and relay the information to Murphy. But Murphy thought it meant that Ferguson would back the bill.

"Cancer patients in this state need to know who their friends are and who their friends aren't," he said.

Over the past three years, Murphy has been able to slowly convince his colleagues to support the controversial measure.

Every cancer survivor or cancer patient in the legislature, including Judicial Proceedings Committee member Sen. Richard F. Colburn, voted for the bill.

Colburn, R-Eastern Shore, said his battle with prostate cancer was a factor in his decision to vote for the bill, which provided a $100 fine for possession of marijuana for medical use. Colburn said he thought the $100 fine was a good compromise from Murphy's original bill, which would have removed any criminal penalties.

But a majority of people on the committee felt otherwise.

Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George's, said he didn't want to risk sending a message to young people that it's OK to smoke marijuana.

"I was worried about how far down the slippery slope you go once you open the door," he said.

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