Maryland Gov. Ehrlich Signs Bill Easing Penalties for Medical Marijuana
Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) on Thursday signed into law a measure that will decrease penalties for seriously ill people who use marijuana to relieve pain and other symptoms of chronic or life-threatening illness, such as HIV/AIDS or cancer, making him the first Republican governor to sign such legislation, the Washington Post reports (Montgomery, Washington Post, 5/23). Under the new law, people who can convince a judge that they use marijuana for medical purposes, such as to ease pain and nausea and improve appetite, will be subject to a fine of no more than $100 for possessing less than one ounce of the drug, instead of the current maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine (Willing, USA Today, 5/23). The measure, which takes effect Oct. 1, does not legalize marijuana. Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington all have approved legislation legalizing marijuana for medical purposes (Potter, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/22). Maryland's General Assembly has been debating bills to ease laws for medical marijuana use for four years (Washington Post, 5/23).
John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and his deputy telephoned Ehrlich to express the Bush administration's opposition to the measure (Washington Post, 5/23). The Bush administration has targeted marijuana in its anti-drug efforts, campaigned against medical marijuana proposals in several states, prosecuted growers and distributors of medical marijuana in California and asked Canadian officials to reject a plan to decriminalize marijuana for most users in that country (USA Today, 5/23). Ehrlich said that the bill represents "a position [he's] had for many, many years," adding that he understands medical marijuana is "not without controversy across parties, across chambers, across states, across the country" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/22).
Connecticut House Defeats Medical Marijuana Bill
In related news, the Connecticut House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 79-64 to defeat a bill that would have allowed doctors to give seriously ill patients certificates of need that would have entitled them to find their own marijuana seeds and grow no more than three mature and four immature marijuana plants indoors for personal medical use, the Connecticut Post reports (Dixon, Connecticut Post, 5/22). Connecticut in 1981 passed a law that allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients receiving chemotherapy or those with glaucoma. However, no prescriptions have been issued since then because of concerns that under federal law, prescribing marijuana is punishable by prison sentence and the revocation of a physician's medical license. State Rep. James Abrams (D), who proposed the measure in 2001, said he would change some of the bill's language to address lawmakers' concerns before reintroducing it next year (AP/New Haven Register, 5/22).