Maryland is set to become the 21st state in America to authorize a medical marijuana program that distributes cannabis to patients. The new law creates a greater responsibility for physicians and less restrictions on the patients and caregivers who handle marijuana.
House Bill 881 was introduced Feb. 5th and was signed into law by Governor Martin OMalley on April 14. The program officially begins on July 1. HB 881 is an expansion of a previously-passed bill, HB 1101 of 2013, that authorized medical marijuana research in hospitals. That program failed due to lack of hospital participation.
"HB 881 establishes a new form of distribution," said the national patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. In their press release they explained, "According to the new law, the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission, which was established under last year's legislation, will regulate dispensaries, characterized as an entity that "acquires, possesses, processes, transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing food, tinctures, aerosols, oils, or ointments, or educational materials for use by a qualifying patient or a caregiver.""
Although the bill is not lengthy, the majority of the new language addresses the doctors and their participation in the program. Physicians must be on staff with a hospital or hospice, and must pre-register with the state before issuing recommendations. They must also provide a plan to screen the patient for dependence and create a program of follow up care.
Read the entire bill HERE.
Recommending physicians are to provide an annual report to the Commission on the number of recommendations issued, the county of residence of the patients approved, the medical conditions cited in their recommendations and "a summary of clinical outcomes, including adverse events and any cases of suspected diversion." Diversion refers to the transfer of marijuana intended for medical use to anyone who is not the patient.
Marijuana is to be recommended if "recognized drugs or treatment would not be effective or other treatment options have more serious side effects or a greater risk of addiction." The list of medical conditions that apply is short and includes "Cachexia, Anorexia or Wasting Syndrome; severe or chronic pain; seizures; severe nausea; severe or persistent muscle spasms."
Hospice care automatically qualifies a person for inclusion into the program regardless of the reason for end-of-life care. A Maryland resident qualifies for the use of medical marijuana if they have "a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that results in a patient being admitted into hospice or receiving palliative care." This is an issue Michigan House Rep. Michael Callton, R-Nashville, has been talking about for years.
The law is permissive when defining who can become a patient: be of age, and get a recommendation from a doctor. Although the law officially covers adults 18 years of age and older, pediatric medical marijuana use is authorized under the new law with a single physician's recommendation and approval by the Commission.
How much marijuana can be owned by a patient? That's up to their doctor. Patients can be "in possession of an amount of marijuana authorized by a certifying physician in accordance with this subtitle." No set limits are articulated in the bill itself. Same thing applies to caregivers, who must be licensed to service a patient or a hospital-based research program. The legislation contains no limits on how much or where the cannabis can be grown, either. There is a unique twist on the caregiver job title contained within the Bill: "the Commission shall encourage licensing medical marijuana growers that grow strains of marijuana with a demonstrated success in alleviating symptoms of specific diseases or conditions."
Although the details of the program are sketchy, one could expect the empty spaces to be filled before the program rolls out. The Commission is charged with creating "regulations," with which they will administer the program.