Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coming Soon: (Medical) Marijuana in Maryland

The Washington Times has this story on marijuana in Maryland:
A Maryland commission will take its first step Wednesday toward developing a plan to legalize medical marijuana in the state...

Medical marijuana has received increasing bipartisan support in Maryland's Democrat-controlled General Assembly, with legislators even floating a proposal this year to set up a state-run production and distribution system.
For numerous reasons (ie: overcrimimalization, race disparities, ineffectiveness of the drug war), I'm disappointed to see the Obama administration backing off on drug reform. That's why it is encouraging to see Maryland moving forward on this.

Am I the only one though, that sees medical marijuana as a bit of a distraction and smokescreen? Obviously I'm all for cancer patients relieving their pain, but it seems like the legislative focus on that issue may be precluding a broader discussion of how messed up our sentencing guidelines and rehabilitation systems are. 

Nevertheless, I suppose medical marijuana is a good "gateway issue" to introduce the need for larger scale reform. The Marijuana Policy Project had this to say about Maryland:
Gov. O'Malley Signs Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law
For medical purposes:

As of June 1, 2011, patients whose doctors have diagnosed them with a debilitating medical condition (including a condition that is “severe and resistant to conventional medicine”) can assert the medical use of marijuana as an affirmative defense. In addition to having a debilitating condition, patients will need to show that the doctor who made the diagnosis was one with whom the patient has an ongoing, bona-fide physician-patient relationship, and that marijuana is likely to provide him or her with therapeutic or palliative relief. Finally, the defense Is not available to anyone in possession of more than one ounce of marijuana or who uses marijuana in a public place.
For patients who don’t qualify for the full affirmative defense, there is also a sentencing mitigation whereby, upon conviction, he or she can present evidence of “medical necessity.” If the court agrees, the maximum penalty that can be imposed is a $100 fine.
For non-medical purposes: 
Possession of any amount of marijuana — even as little as a single gram — can land you in jail for up to a year, in addition to a fine of up to $1,000. Troublingly, the arrest rate for African-Americans in Maryland is almost 20% higher than the national average, and over three times that of whites in the state. For more on the negative consequences of Maryland's marijuana laws, check out this thorough analysis from Jon Gettman, Ph.D.

A better approach would be decriminalizing marijuana, meaning those caught in possession of a modest amount would be given only a civil fine, without the possibility of jail time, saving valuable law enforcement resources.  Take a moment to urge your legislator to consider this sensible alternative .

Last session, Delegate Curt Anderson, a Baltimore City Democrat, introduced a bill to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil, rather than criminal, infraction. The bill was co-sponsored by Delegates Alston, Branch, Braveboy, Carr, Conaway, Dumais, Glenn, Gutierrez, Kaiser, McIntosh, Mitchell,  Nathan–Pulliam, Niemann, Oaks, Rosenberg, Ross, Smigiel, V. Turner, Waldstreicher, and Washington. Perhaps next year will fare better for decriminalization efforts in Maryland?

Dirty little secret: I've been watching this issue carefully, as I've wondered (along with other Democratic consultants) whether this is a winning issue with the public.

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