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House tentatively OKs medical marijuana bill

March 14, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

People using marijuana for medical reasons would receive no more than a $100 fine under legislation tentatively approved Thursday by the Maryland House of Delegates.

Marijuana would still be illegal, but patients could defend themselves in court by arguing medical necessity.

The House Judiciary Committee watered down the original medical marijuana bill, which would have protected patients from prosecution for growing or using small amounts.

"It's not perfect, but we're not going to get perfect," said former Del. Donald Murphy, a key champion of the cause.

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Most Washington County lawmakers said they oppose the bill, which passed the House last year but died by one vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, picked up a one-inch thick stack of messages in his office from supporters of the bill.

Shank said he sympathizes with patients and their families, but he couldn't support the bill because it would force patients or their families to put themselves in harm's way by buying drugs on the street.

"If the state is going to sanction this as something you should do, the state should also find a legal means for the person to obtain the substance," he said.

Without the approval of the federal government, states will not be able to provide that, he said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he was concerned that the state's hospice group is opposed.

"If hospice doesn't feel it's necessary, I will probably be voting no," McKee said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said patients can already use the pill form of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich supports the idea of medical marijuana but has not taken a position on specific legislation.

Supporters of the bill fought off several attempts to change the legislation Thursday.

Among other things, critics wanted to require a doctor's prescription, limit marijuana use to terminally ill patients and extend the bill to other illegal drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin.

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