By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
Maryland on Tuesday became the 16th state to remove criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana when Gov. Martin O'Malley signed SB 308 as promised. The bill allows seriously ill patients to avoid prosecution when charged with marijuana possession, and also creates a commission to study medical marijuana laws and make recommendations on how Maryland can institute such a program.
This is the first time since 2003 that additional protections were considered, and it's an important step toward protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest and ensuring they have safe access to their medicine, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
?"We're very happy that the Governor signed this bill into law and listened with compassion to seriously ill Marylanders who use marijuana to treat their conditions," said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for MPP. "We look forward to the study group created here making helpful recommendations to further protect such patients."
Under the new law, people diagnosed with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, can avoid conviction if charged with the nonpublic use or possession of one ounce or less of marijuana.
An existing sentencing mitigation will remain part of the law, meaning that patients who don't qualify for the full affirmative defense will still have the opportunity to present evidence of medical necessity and have their sentence reduced to a $100 fine.
In addition, a work group made up of medical, legal, and law enforcement experts will be convened to recommend more comprehensive legislation next year. Advocates hope to be able to use that recommendation to pass a bill that offers patients complete protection from arrest and prosecution.
The work group should have the ability to observe a well-regulated medical marijuana program run by their neighbors in the District of Columbia. In April, the District began implementing its long-awaited medical marijuana program by accepting applications for licensed and regulated cultivation centers and dispensaries. That program should be fully operational later this year.
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.