BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Healing herb or dangerous drug? The contentious debate over medical marijuana takes a new step in Maryland.

Andrea Fujii explains patients caught with marijuana now have the law on their side.

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Previously, patients who use marijuana for medical reasons would be arrested, fined $100 and go to court if caught with pot.

Now for the first time ever, some patients can avoid fines and charges for having marijuana.

“All they wanted was to be able to eliminate the fear of being arrested.  And that’s how you got to where we are today,” said Barry Considine, patient.

Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law the medical marijuana bill that was watered down from the start of this  year’s session after the health department and others objected.

“Drugs are so prevalent in our society; it just worries me,” said one legislator.

“It’s disappointing that we’ve only taken one more small step,” Considine said.

Maryland’s law stops short of legalizing the distribution of marijuana like in California where there are cannabis shops where a patient can pick up marijuana legally.

Former talk show host, Baltimore native and multiple sclerosis patient Montel Williams pleaded with legislators to make change.

His hope: “That patients can get off the battlefield and start living a life-like everybody else,” Williams said.

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“It sounds a little too good to be true, maybe,” said Paul Lippner, of Baltimore.

Skeptics, critics and proponents of marijuana still wrangle with what to do with the drug.

“The jury’s out on that one,” said Donna Wittman, of Locust Point. “Not quite sure.”

Should Maryland legislators legalize marijuana entirely?

“You might as well,” said Sherrie Thomas, “if you’re one step below it.” 

“If you keep it this way, there will be too many loopholes to get through to get the marijuana,” said Kelvyn Scott, of Baltimore.

“If you need it, you should be able to use it, and it should be legal,” said Maria Maith, of Rosedale.

“I don’t want to take anything away from them, they’re already suffering enough, but I don’t know how you regulate it,” said John Railey, of Baltimore.

Proponents say the true success will happen when the federal government overturns its policy with drugs. Here in Maryland, it’s not clear what further steps could be attempted next session.

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Maryland is now the 16th state to pass some form of legalizing medical marijuana.