Friday, May 18, 2001

A conservative Republican delegate from Maryland who has become an unlikely ally to medicinal marijuana advocates took his cause to the people last night in a rally in Silver Spring, Md.
Donald E. Murphy, who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, stood with about a dozen others during the afternoon rush hour waving to cars as they passed the busy intersection of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue.
“Those who understand what were doing seem to be pretty supportive,” Mr. Murphy said, as motorists honked their horns in solidarity.
The rally last night was the third in a series Mr. Murphy has been holding across the state to draw attention to the issue. The first was held Tuesday morning in Columbia, and a second was held yesterday in Frederick. The series has been so well received, Mr. Murphy said, he is planning a fourth for Harford County.
The lawmaker first became involved with the issue in October of 1999 after meeting Darrell Putman, owner of a Howard County horse farm and a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Mr. Putman suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma and lost 40 pounds during chemotherapy before a friend suggested he try marijuana.
“A guy like Darrell Putman didnt use marijuana soon enough,” Mr. Murphy said. “He didnt use it for fear of the legal process.”
Mr. Putman died in December of 1999.
For the past two years, Mr. Murphy has introduced the “Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act.” Under the measure, the state health department would authorize patients to use marijuana medicinally and issue identification cards that would protect them from arrest. Health department certification also would allow a patient to cultivate up to seven plants and prepare the marijuana for use.
Both bills died in committee.
“When I started this, people said, ‘Man, youre history,” Mr. Murphy said. “I have a strong record of voting for anti-drug legislation, so its ironic that here I am.”
Mr. Murphy said he has seen an increase in support. He cited polls showing that 70 percent of people in Maryland support his initiative, compared with only 30 percent who believe in decriminalization.
This year, the bill had 28 co-sponsors, 20 Democrats and eight other Republicans.
Delegate Dana Dembrow was one of the sponsors, and he attended the rally last night because it was “the right thing to do.”
He said one reason Mr. Murphy has been able to survive politically while advocating such a controversial position is because he is a Republican.
“I think, politically speaking, its hard to tag a conservative Republican with being soft on crime,” said Mr. Dembrow, Montgomery Democrat.
Larry Silberman, a carpenter before he developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma, also attended the rally. Mr. Silberman, 49, has been on chemotherapy for three months and started taking marijuana three weeks ago to ease some of the side effects, which include sleeplessness and nausea.
“What is wrong with people who are suffering from terminal cancer having some dignity in the last days of their lives?”
Mr. Murphy agrees. He watched his father die of cancer five years ago.
“My dad was so messed up on morphine that we couldnt bring our kids to see him and it was scary,” he said. “Now if thats OK with the government, its not with me.”
The Supreme Court ruled this week that “marijuana clubs” may not invoke a patients illness as a defense from federal prosecution, but disagreed over whether sick patients themselves can avoid arrest by claiming they need pot. Mr. Murphy said his rallies are not in response to the courts decision.
Mr. Murphy said hes spent his career fighting for less-intrusive government, and thats what this issue is about. And the more the legislators face their own illnesses and those of loved ones, the more support he envisions getting.
“This is going to pass one way or another,” he said. “If everybody who has a story to tell tells it, thats going to be 141 votes.”

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