Maryland medical marijuana bill becomes law; other bills made progress
The Maryland General Assembly ended its legislative session on April 8 after considering a record number of reforms to the state’s marijuana laws.
On May 2, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill, HB 1101, to create a hospital-based medical marijuana program. Introduced by Del. Dan Morhaim, M.D., this law is based on a proposal developed by Secretary Joshua Sharfstein of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The new law is far from perfect — marijuana would only be provided through teaching hospitals, which may or may not be willing to move forward with a program for patients, and the system will not take effect until at least 2015. Nonetheless, this bill is a step in the right direction, and we hope the state can provide relief to some of its neediest citizens. The new law goes into effect on October 1, 2013.
Two other bills, HB 180 and SB 580, also represent another step forward in Maryland, and these twin bills have also been signed into law. This law provides medical marijuana caregivers with an affirmative defense when a caregiver is charged with simple possession of marijuana, similar to the medical necessity defense available now for medical marijuana patients. A caregiver only qualifies if the patient previously designated the caregiver in writing, and the designation is in his or her medical record. Caregivers must also meet other conditions. This change in the law goes into effect June 1, 2013.
For the first time, the legislature considered a bill to tax and regulate marijuana — HB 1453, sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson. This bill would have removed all criminal penalties for the use and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over and would have regulated marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. The House Judiciary Committee failed to take action before the deadline.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s “decriminalization” bill — SB 297 — made significant progress, but also did not advance before the deadline. This bill would have removed criminal penalties and made possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil “cite-and-fine” offense. The Senate approved the bill in a 30-17 vote, but it wasn’t called for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. A similar, but broader, bill also introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, SB 394, was withdrawn by the senator earlier in the session.
Although Maryland is taking important steps to improve its marijuana laws, there is still much to be done. Please ask your legislators to take marijuana off the criminal market and tax and regulate it similarly to alcohol.
Marijuana laws in Maryland
Current Laws for Marijuana Possession:
Under the current law, a person in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana faces up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. A conviction for possession of over 10 grams can result in up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. In addition to the medical marijuana law in effect starting October 1, 2013, an affirmative defense of “medical necessity” for people charged with possession is also available. You can learn more about Maryland's marijuana penalties and enforcement by reading this report by Jon Gettman, Ph.D.
Change to the Law Effective June 1, 2013:
The recent change to the law under HB 180 and SB 580 extends this “medical necessity” to charges against certain caregivers who are in possession of marijuana.
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