- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

ANNAPOLIS The Maryland Senate yesterday passed bills authorizing the use of radar cameras to catch speeders and condoning marijuana use for medicinal benefits.
The radar-camera bill, mandating a $100 fine per speeding ticket, had faced stiff opposition led by Republican lawmakers, who repeatedly managed to postpone a vote and tried to gut the legislation with several amendments.
The Democrat majority in the Senate shot down most of the amendments Tuesday and brought the bill to a vote yesterday. The bill passed 30-17, with 10 of the Senate's 14 Republicans voting against it.
The medicinal-marijuana bill, with nine Republicans opposed, passed by a 29-17 vote. The House passed an identical medicinal-marijuana bill last month on a 73-62 vote.
Bills to allow radar-camera enforcement of traffic speed and marijuana for medicinal use both died last year in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The committee breathed new life into the measures this year. The former chairman, Sen. Walter M. Baker, a conservative Eastern Shore Democrat, was replaced with the more liberal Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat. The number of Republicans on the 11-member committee was cut from four to three.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, Carroll Republican, said he was surprised the votes on both bills weren't closer.
"I can't believe some of these Republicans, how they are voting this year," Mr. Haines said.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has said he opposes radar cameras but supports the concept of medicinal marijuana. Yesterday, however, the administration declined to take a position on the specific legislation or say if a veto was in store for either measure.
The radar-camera bill would enable local jurisdictions to adopt new enforcement measures for speeding, but would restrict use of the cameras to school zones and residential districts, though residential districts could be interpreted broadly as anywhere except highways.
The bill also stipulates that the unmanned cameras could not be placed within 100 feet of the bottom of a hill or a change in speed limit. Public notice of camera locations would have to be published in local newspapers.
Sen. Alexander X. Mooney, the Western Maryland Republican at the forefront of the opposition and author of a failed bill to ban red-light cameras, said he was "very disappointed" by the outcome. He said the victory for expanded use of police cameras was a blow for those opposed to "big brother, big government."
"It is a shame that [the vote] appears to be along party lines," he said. "Only seven Democrats were willing to buck their party."
Advocates for the cameras, such as Mr. Frosh, argue that the enforcement measure will promote public safety.
Although almost no debate about the cameras was raised yesterday, Mr. Frosh previously said that speeding near schools and in residential settings was a top constituent concern. Radar cameras and $100 fines will deter violations, he said.
The medicinal-marijuana bill, or the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act, was named for a distinguished Army officer from Western Maryland who became a medicinal-marijuana advocate after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. It would allow a "medical necessity" defense in marijuana-possession cases.
If a judge accepts the "medical necessity" defense, the defendant could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, but would face no more than a $100 fine and no jail time. Current law prescribes sentences of up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for marijuana possession.
The original legislation went further in decriminalizing marijuana possession. It permitted users to grow their own marijuana plants, but set limits on the quantity they could possess. That bill was replaced with legislation with no provision for patients to obtain the drug and put the sentencing discretion in judges' hands.
Sen. David R. Brinkley, Western Maryland Republican and co-sponsor of the bill, said the bill was not perfect, but it was good enough to bring relief to some seriously ill people who could benefit from marijuana use.
Advocates say marijuana can help treat symptoms associated with cancer, AIDS and other illnesses. They say it can restore appetite for people nauseated from chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer.
Detractors say any move to reduce enforcement of drug crimes sends the wrong message to children.
"Nobody advocates lessening the message we have for our children," Mr. Brinkley said. "All we are attempting to do with this legislation is make the crime fit the crime. … These [terminally ill] are not the people we want prosecutors to go after."
Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus voted against the bill and criticized it for not addressing the issue of supplying the drug, saying it seemed to encourage the illegal street trade in marijuana.
"Why should we funnel dollars into an illegal industry?" asked Mr. Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. supported the original bill, but was among the seven Democrats who voted against the new version.
"It was a wonderful, wonderful bill. The amended bill is much less of a bill," said Mr. Miller, Prince George's Democrat.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, also switched her vote, but in the other direction. She opposed permitting the cultivation of marijuana, but could accept providing terminally ill people with a special defense if they opted for the drug.
"I don't think by this bill we are legalizing marijuana at all," Mrs. Jacobs said.

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