Medical Marijuana

November’s election proved a victory for state progressives when both same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act passed at the ballot box. But the same can’t be said when it comes to years of drug policy initiative efforts.

This issue is one in which this state, called one of the nation’s most liberal by several experts, trails behind the likes of Colorado and Washington, which legalized recreational marijuana this past Election Day. Although legislators have debated lifting the ban on the drug for medical purposes, the effort hasn’t moved forward for several years — and hasn’t been helped by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s threat to veto such a bill if it came to his desk.

“Despite being a blue state, I guess we’re just little bit conservative on the issue,” said Alan Lehman, a criminology professor.

And while residents strongly advocated for same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act, the same kind of constituency isn’t there for recreational marijuana legalization, experts said — at least not to the same degree as on the West Coast.

“I don’t see marijuana legalization forthcoming in Maryland. I just don’t see any signs of it,” said Chris Foreman, a public policy professor. “One of the drivers of that would have to be a substantial number of people who aim to supply that market, and I gather out west you have more of those people.”

Last legislative session, Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City) introduced a bill aimed only at medical marijuana legalization, but as she expected, it didn’t hold up to the scrutiny of legislators who amended the bill and watered it down. Instead, the final version of the bill provided a defense in court and lessened charges for caregivers administering the drug to patients.

That bill won by a sizable 86-41 margin in the House of Delegates, but the Senate failed to bring it to a vote in the waning minutes of the General Assembly’s last day. Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) said he plans to reintroduce the bill, as well as legislation that would create a task force to determine permissible medical uses of the drug.

With federal law prohibiting the sale and use of marijuana, this state — along with many others — has been hesitant to move forward for fear that federal regulators would step in, Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) said in an interview with The Diamondback in April. Those fears, he said, are largely unfounded.

For Morhaim, there’s no shortage of rationale from opponents of a state-level initiative. “There’s plenty of states moving ahead despite the federal law,” Morhaim said. “If people want to be opposed to medical marijuana, they’ll find their reasons.”

Medical marijuana is not benign, nor are any medicines, Morhaim said, but he does not see why the state can’t move to make it available for patients who may be afflicted with certain ailments.

“I think this should be in the hands of a doctor-patient relationship, not a dealer-patient relationship,” he said.

Morhaim declined to comment on the prospects of marijuana in the state and whether it could be available to recreational users at some point in the near future.

Recreational drug use may be a “bridge too far,” Lehman said. While he said he would support the state creating such a program for medical purposes, full-on legalization could pave the way to abuses that wouldn’t come as easily to someone who is strictly on a medical regimen.

“To the extent that it’s something that people want to do, to the extent that it’s an abusable drug, I really don’t agree with legalization” for recreational purposes, Lehman said.

And while Lehman said he feels the state may soon act on medical marijuana legislation, it’s more difficult to build a case for recreational use.

“If people are concerned about high school kids or … impressionable young minds or what have you, that’s the kind of thing that’s going to come up and make a lot more sense if we’re talking about recreational use” as opposed to medical use, he said.