Gov. Martin O’Malley says he will oppose medical marijuana legislation, citing the possibility of federal prosecution against state employees who implement medical marijuana programs.
Despite the governor’s reservations, advocates and legislators, such as , are pushing for the medical use of marijuana. A hearing on the subject was held Friday.
“The threat is only in a letter to the governor of Delaware,” Morhaim said about the possibility of federal prosecution. “I think we should do what’s right for policy in Maryland.”
The letter to which Morhaim referred was sent to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, and it laid out what federal authorities could do to prosecute those who would comply with the state’s then-newly penned law. The governor has since postponed setting up state-regulated distribution through dispensaries, but implemented other parts of the law that won't incite federal action, said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project. Letters have been sent to other governors as well, according to his organization.
Morhaim said if federal prosecution were to occur in other states, it would happen long before Maryland would pass a bill and get a program running. In particular, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., will have medical marijuana programs in place this fall, Morhaim said.
“Let’s deal with reality and not a threat that’s in a letter to a governor in another state,” he said.
On Friday, patients as young as 15, and advocates, including Baltimore native and talk show host Montel Williams, spoke about medical marijuana at a hearing in Annapolis.
“What you are trying to accomplish is being compassionate to those who are suffering," said Williams, The Baltimore Sun reported. Williams suffers from multiple sclerosis and has used marijuana for pain relief.
Morhaim said he thought Friday’s testimony was moving, with patients telling compelling stories about their conditions and how marijuana helps them.
“They don’t want to be turned into criminals for getting relief from some very terrible symptoms,” he said.
Still, Joshua Sharfstein, the governor's health secretary, told reporters Friday that he won’t support a medical marijuana bill because “that path is blocked right now,” The Washington Post reported. He would support a bill under different federal policy, The Post said.
Although the governor said he won’t sign a medical marijuana bill this session, Morhaim is certain that Maryland has some sensible options it can work through.
Legislation that passed last year created a work group to study medical marijuana, and it came out with two recommendations. The 2011 law also established that doctors can discuss medical marijuana with their patients, and that patients who are arrested can be found innocent in court if they prove their use is medical.
The work group came up with two recommendations, both of which Morhaim submitted as bills. House Bill 1024 calls for licensed grow centers and would allow physicians affiliated with an academic medical center to prescribe medical marijuana. House Bill 1158 would allow only physicians working at academic medical centers to prescribe medical marijuana and would only allow it to be grown at academic centers.
Morhaim told The Gazette that either proposal would still make Maryland’s medical marijuana law the strictest in the country.
There is a third bill from Baltimore Democrat Cheryl Glenn, District 45, that would establish regulated “compassion centers,” which would grow and distribute medical marijuana to patients, who would have to apply for patient cards from the state. All three bills are pending.