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Maryland Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Defense Bill


BUT IT’S 4/1,2 NOT 4/20

An amended version of Maryland SB 308 has been approved by the state’s House and Senate and now goes to the desk of Governor O’Malley, whose aids have indicated he plans to sign the bill. While not as robust as the original, SB 308 still allows for qualified medical marijuana patients to present an “affirmative defense” if they are being prosecuted for possessing and consuming their medicine. Here is an excerpt from a Marijuana Policy Project email alert:

“With the passage of this bill, the General Assembly has let seriously ill patients know they are not criminals for seeking relief from their pain and suffering,” said Senator David Brinkley, the primary sponsor of the Senate bill.” It will also establish a framework to build on in moving forward with more comprehensive solutions so that some day soon patients will be able to obtain their medicine in dignity and not on street corners. I thank my colleagues in both chambers for today’s compassionate vote.”

In its current form, the bill, SB 308, allows individuals diagnosed with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, to avoid conviction if charged with the non-public use or possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. An existing sentencing mitigation would remain part of the law, meaning patients who don’t qualify for the full affirmative defense would still have the opportunity to present evidence of medical necessity and have their sentence reduced to a $100 fine. In addition, a work group consisting of medical, legal, and law enforcement experts would be convened to recommend more comprehensive legislation next year. The bill represents a compromise after the Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene objected to a more robust proposal calling for state-regulated dispensaries due to the cost of implementation.

“Today’s vote is a move toward compassion for those who might benefit from this drug,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, the bill’s House sponsor and the General Assembly’s only licensed physician. “A growing body of evidence suggests marijuana is helpful in treating certain conditions, and seriously ill people who use marijuana to treat such conditions on the advice of their physician should not be considered criminals.”

“Under current law, patients using medical marijuana in Maryland face criminal arrest, prosecution and conviction,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, one of the sponsors in the Senate. “Although judges can reduce the penalty to $100 in these cases, we heard testimony from patients who said they have lost their jobs and were haunted for life by being branded as criminals. This legislation declares that severely ill people using medical marijuana are not criminals and will have the opportunity to establish medical necessity as a defense to a possession charge. The removal of this threat and the creation of a work group to develop a Maryland model for a comprehensive medical marijuana regime moves us closer to the broader goal of giving patients in Maryland a legal way to obtain doctor-recommended medicine.”

Advocates appear to be  encouraged by the compromise. “This isn’t a permanent solution, and it’s not everything that patients need, but it allows people suffering from debilitating conditions to sleep a little easier tonight while they wait for full protections,” said Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project.

Maryland could very well becomes the 16th state to remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana patients and next year maybe a full medical marijuana bill can be introduced and make its way through the legislature.

The legalization of medical marijuana is very interesting topic that most people have a strong opinion about. Those of us at Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake (SZL) plan to stay on top of the news relating to this bill so that we can zealously defend our clients and pursue every conceivable defense.  We would love to hear your comments on this topic.