PRESS RELEASE | Americans for Safe Access | For Immediate Release: March 6, 2009
Caren Woodson - Montgomery County chapter 510-388-0546
Damien Nichols – Prince George’s County chapter 410-507-9379
Judiciary Committee Schedules Hearing on Medical Marijuana
Patients, advocates prepare to change inadequate Maryland law
Annapolis, MD – On Tuesday, March 24 the House of Delegate Standing Committee on the Judiciary will conduct a legislative hearing to consider HB1339, a bill to study Maryland’s medical marijuana law. Earlier this week, the bill was approved by the Rules Committee prior to being assigned a hearing date by Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Prince George’s County).
State Delegate Henry Heller (D-Montgomery County) introduced HB 1339 last month, legislation that creates a task force to study the issues related to medical marijuana throughout the state of Maryland. If the bill passes, the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would be required to staff a Governor-appointed task force to evaluate whether the current state law is effective, fair, and equally enforced across all state jurisdictions in addition to other issues concerning the limited, therapeutic use of cannabis.
In 2002, shortly after a Federal Court of Appeal held that physicians have a Constitutional First Amendment right to recommend the use of marijuana to their patients, the Maryland state legislature passed the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act (CUA). The CUA requires state and local courts to consider a patient's use of medical marijuana in accordance with a physician's recommendation to be a "mitigating factor" in marijuana-related state prosecutions. The law permits an affirmative defense in state court, yet still may penalize qualified patients by fining them a maximum of $100.
However, according to medical marijuana advocates, individuals in Maryland who possess a physician’s recommendation to use marijuana for therapeutic purposes are still arrested, prosecuted, and, in some cases, fined more than the statutory $100 limit. Worse still, legitimate patients in Maryland are forced to break the law; unnecessarily, and sometimes harmfully, involving themselves in the illicit market in order to gain access to their physician-recommended marijuana. "In short, Maryland’s medical marijuana law is broken," said Tony Bowles, a spokesperson with the Montgomery County Chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy organization. "Ironically, and tragically, people suffering from serious or chronic conditions are vulnerable to arrest and prosecution, and are left without a safe, secure way to access physician-recommended medical marijuana."
Steven Fowler, Montgomery County resident and patient, adds "as patients, all we are asking is that the government look into the current program to determine if it is the safest option for patients in need: Data, not doctrine should determine policy on health care issues."
Excluding Maryland, thirteen states, representing more than 72 million people, have passed laws authorizing patients living with a serious or chronic condition to use physician-recommended marijuana free from criminal prosecution. The Maryland chapters of Americans For Safe Access (MD-ASA), together with patients and their supporters, have been working to bring the same protections and progressive health policies to the State of Maryland. "Every year, Maryland wastes precious law enforcement resources to conduct investigations, and to arrest and prosecute scores of people who legitimately use medical cannabis to control symptoms of a serious or chronic illness," said Bowles. "We applaud Delegate Heller's proposal and hope this task force will put science above politics, paving the way for much needed changes to a flawed medical marijuana law."
Full text of HB1339: http://www.mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/bills/hb/hb1339f.pdf
Facts on Maryland's medical marijuana law: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=2050
Maryland Chapters of Americans for Safe Access: http://www.americansforsafeaccess.org/article.php?id=280
Prince George’s County ASA Campaign website:http://www.MDSafeAccess.org
Maryland Gazette Article, March 4, 2009:http://www.gazette.net/stories/03042009/montnew220431_32489.shtml
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With over 30,000 active members in more than 40 states, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA works to overcome political and legal barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation, education, litigation, grassroots actions, advocacy and services for patients and the caregivers.