- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

ANNAPOLIS The move to make marijuana legal for medicinal use is gaining momentum in its second year before the Maryland General Assembly.

Prince George's County Democrat Sen. Ulysses Currie has joined Baltimore County Republican Delegate Donald E. Murphy in sponsoring legislation that would let seriously ill patients use marijuana to relieve persistent nausea or other debilitating symptoms without fear of arrest.

Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Rob Kampia says that of 25 states considering legalizing medicinal marijuana use this year, Maryland is among the three most likely to approve it.

The group is a national organization that advocates decriminalizing marijuana, particularly but not only for medicinal use.

Under this year's measure which is similar to one Hawaii enacted last year the state health department would authorize patients as legal users.

Health officials would issue identification cards and certification that would serve to protect patients from arrest. That documentation would also protect caregivers of patients unable to cultivate and prepare the marijuana themselves as well as physicians who recommend its use.

Patients would be allowed to possess up to seven plants and an ounce of usable marijuana for each.

To qualify as an authorized user, a patient would have to get a physician's recommendation or provide medical records that indicate he could benefit from marijuana use.

Among illnesses that could qualify a patient are cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease.

At least three of the 28 delegates co-sponsoring the bill are cancer survivors, one has glaucoma and several, including Mr. Murphy, have watched friends or relatives battle symptoms some contend are often best relieved by marijuana still an illegal drug under state and federal law.

About a third of the House sponsors are Republicans; the rest are Democrats.

"I don't think you'll find another issue in this legislature that all these delegates agree on," said Delegate Dana Dembrow, a co-sponsor and Montgomery County Democrat, who called marijuana "an ancient herbal remedy."

Mr. Currie, who is joined by Prince George's County Democrats Nathaniel Exum and Paul Pinsky in sponsoring the Senate bill, likened allowing marijuana use for sick people to allowing morphine to relieve pain. Like morphine, marijuana wouldn't be legal for use recreationally.

But activists such as Joyce Nalepka believe medicinal marijuana use would open the door to full legalization.

And Mrs. Nalepka, a Silver Spring grandmother who founded a group to oppose such measures, contends that groups supporting medicinal use do so partly as a way to decriminalize marijuana.

"These young people have gotten the public so confused," Mrs. Nalepka said.

She says evidence is anecdotal and personal but not scientific, and that users should be worried about research that shows marijuana can contain unknown compounds and can weaken immune systems.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is unlikely to review the bill until it clears at least one chamber's committee, said spokesman Mike Morrill.

But Mr. Glendening would be concerned that the "message" such a measure sends could undermine the state's drug-fighting efforts and do more harm than good.

Last year, the bill died in the House Judiciary Committee on an 11-7 vote, and no such bill has yet been considered in the Senate.

Of the seven states that have approved medicinal marijuana use, all but Hawaii did so in referendums.

In 1998, 69 percent of D.C. voters approved legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, only to have Congress use its budgetary power to stop the city from loosening its drug law.

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