Legislators To Review Distribution of Marijuana

Feb 15, 2012

The use of med­ical mar­i­juana in Mary­land and how a statewide sys­tem could legally pro­vide patient access are once again before the Gen­eral Assem­bly, with three bills filed in recent weeks — each propos­ing a very dif­fer­ent sys­tem for dis­pens­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of the drug. Though fed­eral law crim­i­nal­izes the use of the drug, some leg­is­la­tors — led by Del. Dan Morhaim, a Dis­trict 11 Demo­c­rat from Bal­ti­more County and the legislature’s only med­ical doc­tor, and Sen. David Brink­ley, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents Car­roll and Fred­er­ick coun­ties in the 4th Dis­trict — have pushed in recent years for the state to adopt its own laws per­mit­ting and pro­vid­ing for the drug’s use by med­ical patients with spe­cific, debil­i­tat­ing con­di­tions, a step already taken by more than a dozen other states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia. Last year, the leg­is­la­ture passed a bipar­ti­san bill that essen­tially decrim­i­nal­ized use of the drug by peo­ple who can show it is for “ther­a­peu­tic or pal­lia­tive relief,” cleared the way for physi­cians to dis­cuss use of the drug with patients with­out fear of reprisal from the state’s med­ical licens­ing board, and cre­ated a panel charged with mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions for med­ical access to the drug in the state mov­ing for­ward, said Morhaim, a panel mem­ber. Still, the fact that patients lack a safe way to pur­chase or receive the drug remains a major gap in the state’s over­all pol­icy toward med­ical mar­i­juana use, Morhaim said. It’s one he hopes will be filled this ses­sion with new leg­is­la­tion based on the find­ings of the 22-member panel, which split to pro­duce two sep­a­rate plans for a state-backed med­ical mar­i­juana sys­tem late last year. “We’ve already acknowl­edged that (med­ical patients who use mar­i­juana) shouldn’t be crim­i­nal­ized. That’s a step for­ward,” Morhaim said. “But the patient still has to go out and have a dealer-patient rela­tion­ship, instead of a doctor-patient rela­tion­ship. They’re still putting money into the ille­gal drug trade, which isn’t a good thing.” One panel plan, backed by Dr. Joshua Sharf­stein, Sec­re­tary of Maryland’s Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hygiene and a panel mem­ber, rec­om­mends treat­ing med­ical mar­i­juana as an inves­ti­ga­tional drug that spe­cific research insti­tu­tions in the state would be able to dis­pense to lim­ited patient pools while study­ing the treatment’s effects. The other panel plan, endorsed by Brink­ley and Morhaim, calls for cre­at­ing a net­work of state-sanctioned dis­pen­saries — and grow­ers — that would work with physi­cians across the state, trained in rec­om­mend­ing use of the drug, while also pro­vid­ing for data col­lec­tion. On Feb. 10, bills reflect­ing both plans were intro­duced in the House by Morhaim, who had said ear­lier that the leg­is­la­tion would mir­ror the rec­om­men­da­tions of the two plans, and “over­lap about 90 per­cent.” Sen­ate ver­sions of the bills were expected to be intro­duced this week. “What I hope is that it makes mar­i­juana avail­able to those patients who need it, who have tried every­thing else and found it didn’t help them, in a safe and secure way, under con­trolled cir­cum­stances,” Morhaim said. Cul­ti­va­tion Con­ver­sa­tion Even before last week’s fil­ing, two com­mit­tees in the House of Del­e­gates were already hear­ing a sep­a­rate bill spon­sored by Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Dis­trict 45 Demo­c­rat from Bal­ti­more City, that would legal­ize the med­ical use of the drug and allow for home cul­ti­va­tion of mar­i­juana plants by qual­i­fied patients, an option not rec­om­mended by either plan that came out of the panel but one that exists in other states. Because of the home cul­ti­va­tion lan­guage, that leg­is­la­tion is con­sid­ered by some to be less likely to suc­ceed than the leg­is­la­tion directly sup­port­ing the panel-recommended plans, accord­ing to Dan Rif­fle, a leg­isla­tive ana­lyst with the Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project, a med­ical mar­i­juana advo­cacy group that has been actively lob­by­ing leg­is­la­tors in the state. “We’ve deter­mined that that’s some­thing that will not be able to pass, at least at this time,” said Rif­fle, whose orga­ni­za­tion sup­ports home cul­ti­va­tion but pushes leg­is­la­tion they con­sider viable. “We want to move the ball as far for­ward as we can,” Rif­fle said. “But to the extent that Glenn’s bill adds to the con­ver­sa­tion, I think that’s a good thing.” Glenn said she hopes her bill will spark con­ver­sa­tion. “I don’t have any delu­sions of grandeur,” she said. “But whether my bill passes or not, I want the con­ver­sa­tion to be there. I want this to be on the table.” Glenn’s mother died last year of kid­ney can­cer. Her brother-in-law died five years ago from bile duct can­cer. As she watched them “waste away” because they were unable to eat, “sev­eral doc­tors indi­cated that it was just shame­ful they could not pre­scribe med­ical mar­i­juana as an appetite stim­u­lant,” Glenn said. In part because of that, she has long been work­ing with Morhaim and state Sen. David Brink­ley, a Dis­trict 4 Repub­li­can from Car­roll and Fred­er­ick coun­ties and another lead­ing med­ical mar­i­juana pro­po­nent, on craft­ing leg­is­la­tion. She sees con­trolled, licensed home cul­ti­va­tion by patients with mon­i­tored doctor-patient rela­tion­ships as crit­i­cal to ensur­ing the law does not “cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion of the haves and the have nots,” so decided to intro­duce her own leg­is­la­tion, she said. “Too many peo­ple would not be able to afford the med­ical mar­i­juana, if they are not allowed to do per­sonal cul­ti­va­tion,” Glenn said. “We still have a lot of work­ing poor in Mary­land, and we have a lot of peo­ple who still can’t afford health care.” Facil­i­tat­ing Access Morhaim said while he is happy both panel plans “rec­og­nize that the sta­tus quo is flawed and that it’s time to move for­ward,” he hopes the plan he backs gains momen­tum in the leg­is­la­ture rather than the plan backed by Sharf­stein. He said restrict­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion of the drug to research insti­tu­tions would limit the ben­e­fits of the drug, espe­cially in areas of the state with­out such insti­tu­tions, and would unnec­es­sar­ily pro­scribe the par­tic­i­pa­tion of well-qualified doc­tors across the state who know their patients best but who don’t work at one of the insti­tu­tions. “Why should physi­cians who are per­fectly com­pe­tent and who work in those areas not be able to help their patients?” he asked. More impor­tantly, Morhaim said Sharfstein’s plan sim­ply isn’t viable on a prac­ti­cal level, because research insti­tu­tions like Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity or the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land that receive fed­eral fund­ing aren’t likely to risk that fund­ing — or their own legal stand­ing — by par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pro­gram that, while cre­ated under state law, would still break with fed­eral law. Sharf­stein dis­agreed, and said he has already heard inter­est in his plan’s poten­tial from state insti­tu­tions, though he declined to name them. He also said the amount of evi­dence on med­ical mar­i­juana as a ther­a­peu­tic drug is still insuf­fi­cient for a sys­tem of use based on doc­tor rec­om­men­da­tions. That makes it more appro­pri­ate to treat med­ical mar­i­juana as an inves­ti­ga­tional drug, and aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions often offer the first line of study and test­ing of such drugs, he said. “When you don’t have con­vinc­ing evi­dence that the ben­e­fits out­weigh the risks, then it’s appro­pri­ate to be gath­er­ing data and to be thought­ful about which patients should be try­ing the ther­apy and why,” Sharf­stein said. “Aca­d­e­mic cen­ters do exactly this.” Rif­fle said he shares Morhaim’s con­cerns about Sharfstein’s plan. How to cre­ate state med­ical mar­i­juana law that con­tra­dicts fed­eral law is a con­cern in gen­eral, Rif­fle said, but it’s not an insur­mount­able obsta­cle to new state leg­is­la­tion, as was shown with the state leg­is­la­tion passed dur­ing last year’s ses­sion. “We’ve already sort of passed that bridge,” Rif­fle said. “We’ve already said the state of Mary­land is going to diverge from fed­eral law when it comes to patients who need med­ical mar­i­juana.” Now, Rif­fle said, the dis­cus­sion is all about “how best to facil­i­tate access.” Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Demo­c­rat who rep­re­sents Dis­trict 10 that includes Catonsville, and a reg­is­tered nurse, said her stance on med­ical mar­i­juana is in line with Morhaim’s plan, largely because of her con­cerns with access. There needs to be a law in Mary­land that allows peo­ple with seri­ous med­ical con­di­tions to receive med­ical mar­i­juana “with­out endan­ger­ing their lives and going out on the street, and pos­si­bly fac­ing arrest,” she said. She said she would like to see sub­stan­tive progress on the mat­ter this ses­sion, beyond what would be pro­vided by cat­e­go­riz­ing med­ical mar­i­juana an “inves­ti­ga­tional drug” that can only be han­dled by research insti­tu­tions. The med­ical com­mu­nity has already largely agreed on the med­ical ben­e­fits of the drug for cer­tain patients, she said, includ­ing “peo­ple with can­cer and other dis­eases that are nau­se­at­ing” and patients who have trou­ble eat­ing. In fact, the drug has been shown to be ben­e­fi­cial for patients suf­fer­ing from a broad array of ill­nesses, she said, includ­ing mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, as for­mer talk-show host Mon­tel Williams tes­ti­fied when he advo­cated for a med­ical mar­i­juana law in the state last year. “We know that it works,” she said. “I don’t need to spend a whole lot more time and money inves­ti­gat­ing it.” Whichever bill emerges as the most likely to suc­ceed — one of the two reflect­ing the work group find­ings or Glenn’s bill — Morhaim said he hopes the issue receives the same open-minded, bipar­ti­san con­sid­er­a­tion as the leg­is­la­tion that passed last year. Med­ical­iz­ing the use of the drug will help every­one, he said, in part by dimin­ish­ing its appeal as a street drug. “It loses its glam­our when it’s grandma’s med­i­cine,” he said. Source: Bal­ti­more Sun (MD) Author: Kevin Rec­tor Pub­lished: Feb­ru­ary 14, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 The Bal­ti­more Sun Con­tact: letters@​baltsun.​com Web­site: http://​www​.bal​ti​more​sun​.com/

d81940fb17plants.jpg 150x109 Legislators To Review Distribution of Marijuana

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Leg­is­la­tors To Review Dis­tri­b­u­tion of Marijuana

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