It would allow research centers to prescribe marijuana to their patients.
A medical marijuana bill for Maryland is expected to be signed into law on Thursday by the Governor. The measure would set up a commission that would allow academic research centers, such as universities and hospitals, to establish medical marijuana programs. Patients would receive the marijuana for medical purposes if they enroll in the centers' programs.
"It's means that the state is a little bit closer to having evidence-based, rational policies with respect to marijuana," says Dan Riffle, the Deputy Director of Government Relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We're excited to have Maryland join other states around the country that have taken a step in that direction."
If the governor signs it, Maryland would become the 19th state that allows for medical use of marijuana. In other states which have medical marijuana laws, however, patients whose doctors prescribe marijuana would take their prescription to a dispensary and purchase their marijuana. Maryland patients would have to get it from an approved research center. The marijuana would come from the federal government, or state-licensed growers.
Opponents have questioned whether marijuana has any medical uses, but Riffle says the research shows that it does. "Every study that's looked at this has said that marijuana is effective in treating nausea, loss of appetite, which is something that affects people going through chemotherapy; muscle spasticity and nerve pain in people that have multiple sclerosis and other pain conditions as well," he says.
Riffle also says it's better that patients who need marijuana for medical purposes get it legally, rather than going to drug dealers. "And there's no reason to throw people in jail for using marijuana if their doctors recommend it," he says. "And, more importantly, there's no reason to send people to the streets to obtain marijuana from an illicit market and steer money into the pockets of drug dealers and drug cartels, when we should be giving people medication in an appropriate medical setting," says Riffle.
Other critics have said legalizing marijuana for medical use will eventually lead to making the drug legal for recreational purposes. "This bill is not about leading to legalization of marijuana for any other purposes," says Riffle. "It's about providing medical marijuana to patients whose doctors recommend marijuana in a safe medical place to obtain their medication."
Analysts say the first medical marijuana program in Maryland probably won't be up and running until 2016.
The Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. Its website is http://www.marijuanapolicy.org.