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Medical marijuana bill approved by Senate

under the measure, people who can prove medical necessity would not face jail time for marijuana possession.

under the measure, people who can prove medical necessity would not face jail time for marijuana possession.

March 27, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

The state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would substantially reduce criminal penalties for seriously ill people caught using marijuana for medical reasons.

By a vote of 29-17, the Senate approved a measure identical to one that already has passed the House of Delegates.

All three Washington County senators voted against the measure.

Under the measure, people who can prove medical necessity would not face jail time for marijuana possession. The most they would face is a $100 fine.

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The legislation will go to the desk of Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who has not taken a position on the bill. In the past, Ehrlich has backed the idea of marijuana for medical use.

Supporters in the Senate gave impassioned pleas for the bill, relating personal stories of pain and loss.

Sen. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George's, told of watching his 25-year-old daughter waste away and die because treatments for Hodgkins disease left her unable to eat. None of the conventional drugs worked.

"If we could have gotten her marijuana, we would have done that for her," he said.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick/Carroll, said 24,000 people a year are diagnosed with cancer in Maryland. There are 10,000 cancer deaths each year.

"We are in a Catch-22. These people are getting it now and, yes, it's illegal," he said. "For now, the issue is compassion and these people who, quite frankly, don't have the luxury of another year's debate."

Opponents argued there is no scientific proof that smoking marijuana is beneficial to people with medical conditions such as cancer and glaucoma.

They view it as a step toward legalization.

"It's the famous camel's head under the tent. It's the gateway to further legalization," Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said after the debate.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he, too, has a personal story of loss. His mother died of cancer in the mid-1990s.

"I don't believe she would have wanted me to go out and break the law to get her something," he said.

A Smithsburg woman who lobbied lawmakers to pass the legislation said she was disappointed that all eight Washington County senators and delegates voted against the bill.

"I would have hoped they would have seen the need to protect the patients rather than throwing them to the wolves," said Erin Hildebrandt, 32.

Hildebrandt said she was pleased the bill passed even though she had supported legalization of medical marijuana.

"Hopefully this is the first step and patients will be protected," she said.

Hildebrandt said marijuana once helped her deal with Crohn's disease and migraine headaches.

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