- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

ANNAPOLIS A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including some cancer survivors, appealed to a House committee yesterday to legalize marijuana for people who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

The bill, which has 53 co-sponsors in the 141-member House, would allow people with diseases such as cancer or AIDS to use marijuana at the recommendation of their physician. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would issue registry identification cards for patients eligible to take the drug.

Delegate David Brinkley, Frederick County Republican, told the House Judiciary Committee he underwent radiation treatment for lymphoma in 1989.

Mr. Brinkley addressed concerns that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would clash with federal law by saying it could have been a great relief to other patients he met who were undergoing chemotherapy, which caused great pain and trouble eating.

"Some people don't have time to wait for Washington to stop screwing around," he said.

Delegate Dana Dembrow, Montgomery County Democrat, said marijuana is currently legal for medical purposes in eight states, so "we're not plowing new ground here." The sponsor of the bill, Delegate Donald Murphy, Baltimore County Republican, said no medicinal-marijuana users have been prosecuted federally in those states.

Mr. Murphy argued that smoking marijuana is preferable in some cases to taking dronabinol, a legal pill that contains the principal active ingredient in pot. Pills can be difficult to keep down for people with extreme nausea, he said, and the smoke acts faster.

Larry Silberman, 50, of Rockville, said he decided to start smoking marijuana as he was undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He said the marijuana helped stimulate his appetite while he was enduring extreme nausea and pain.

"It was far better to risk arrest and imprisonment than to slowly waste away and die," he said. "I believe smoking during that chemotherapy allowed me to live."

Douglas Stiegler, executive director of the Family Protection Lobby, testified against the bill, saying it "opens a door that should not be opened."

The science supporting marijuana's medicinal benefits was too anecdotal, he said, citing a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case, which said it has "no currently accepted medical use."

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a watered-down version of a bill aimed at stopping state police from taking guns from and denying gun purchases or permits to persons with old, minor convictions. The amended measure states that a person convicted in a single incident of misdemeanor common-law assault would not be disqualified from having a firearm if he served no time or if he served 30 days or less and 10 years have passed since the end of the sentence.

Sponsors contend the change in the law is needed to keep Maryland State Police, on the advice of anti-gun activist Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., from confiscating firearms and enforcing gun-disqualification laws in a way that many lawmakers, including the House speaker and Senate president, say they never intended.

It appears the measure would restore gun rights to Donald G. Arnold, a private investigator named Citizen of the Year by the state for his work to make southeast Baltimore neighborhoods safer. He had paid a small fine for a bar scuffle with another man in 1969.

The state police and Mr. Curran are fighting Mr. Arnold in Baltimore County Circuit Court to deny renewal of his concealed-carry permit despite a state review board's twice ordering that it be reissued to him.

* Staff writer Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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