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Medical Marijuana Bill Advances In Md. House

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A measure to allow medical marijuana in Maryland moved forward in the House of Delegates on Saturday.

The House gave the bill preliminary approval with little discussion, though it still needs a final vote in the chamber. The legislation would create a commission to oversee a medical marijuana program at academic medical research centers that decide to participate. The commission would function within the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Supporters have been pushing for the measure for years, but it received an extra boost this year with the backing of Health Department Secretary Joshua Sharfstein, a member of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s cabinet. Sharfstein opposed the measure last year, fearing state employees could face federal prosecution.

Sharfstein told lawmakers earlier this month he supports the bill with changes to make it clear the governor can suspend the program if it is determined state employees could be prosecuted for their involvement in the program. The legislation also has been changed to note that a state employee would be eligible for reimbursement of legal fees in connection with a federal criminal investigation for good-faith work related to the program.

It’s estimated that patients could not participate in a medical marijuana program before July 2015.

A program would be allowed only at an academic medical center, which is defined as a hospital that operates a medical residency program for physicians and conducts research that is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A participating medical center would be required to specify the medical conditions it would treat and the criteria by which patients would be allowed to participate. A medical center also would have to provide the state health department data on patients and caregivers on a daily basis. The department would also have to make the data available to law enforcement.

The commission overseeing the program could license no more than five medical marijuana growers for each approved program.

The bill is being sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who is an emergency room physician.

Under current law, if a court finds that a defendant used marijuana out of medical necessity, the maximum punishment is a $100 fine. Critics say the current law still forces people whose pain could be alleviated by marijuana to buy it illegally from drug dealers.

On Tuesday, the state Senate voted 30-16 to decriminalize the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.

California became the first state to allow the medical use of marijuana. Since then, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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