- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

ANNAPOLIS The nation's drug-control chief yesterday sharply criticized medical marijuana legislation making headway in the state legislature, calling it a "cynical, cruel and immoral effort to use the sick and the suffering" to advance the cause of decriminalizing pot.
The House of Delegates has approved a bill to drastically reduce penalties for people caught using marijuana to ease medical symptoms, and a matching measure is expected to be debated on the Senate floor today.
To lighten sentences to $100 for those who smoke marijuana to treat symptoms of cancer, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or Crohn's disease is "scientifically irresponsible and contradictory to our high standards for approval of medications," said John P. Walters, director of the National Drug Control Policy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of marijuana for treating such illnesses.
Mr. Walters, appointed by President Bush to the Cabinet-level position, successfully campaigned last year against marijuana-reform ballot measures in Nevada, Arizona and Ohio that did not deal with medical marijuana.
Mr. Walters contends that groups that wish to legalize marijuana altogether are pressuring state legislatures to enact medical marijuana laws as a steppingstone to legalizing a harmful and addictive drug. Under current law, simple possession or use of marijuana can bring penalties of a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.
"We owe people with debilitating medical conditions the best that science has to offer, not the results of interest-group lobbying and political compromise," Mr. Walters said. "The legislation being considered in Maryland for so-called medical marijuana would also mean more availability of a dangerous drug in our neighborhoods."
The sponsor of the House bill, Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, Baltimore County Democrat and physician, countered that "it's disingenuous to show up at the last minute if he's really concerned." The measure has been debated for the past few years in the General Assembly and had been moving forward during the past few weeks. The bill passed the House last year but was stymied in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
That committee, under new chairman Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, approved the measure last week. Mr. Frosh said the influential testimony in committee came from sick people, not from legalization groups. He added that he didn't believe they had received any federal testimony on the bill, calling Mr. Walters' message "a dollar short and many days late."
"We're not decriminalizing. We're just saying in this case maybe the sentences should not be harsh," Mr. Frosh said.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. also supports the concept of medical marijuana, although he has not taken a stand on the current legislation.

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