GOV. ROBERT L. Ehrlich Jr. has the power to protect the sick and dying in Maryland from going to prison for taking their medicine.
To some, the bill legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, which has passed the General Assembly and is before Governor Ehrlich, may seem like just another piece of legislation.
But for me its impact will be profoundly personal.
I'm a small-town wife and stay-at-home mother of five who felt compelled to step beyond my ordinary life of hugging my children, finger-painting, baking cookies and visiting playgrounds and testify before state House and Senate committees on behalf of myself and the many Maryland residents who are forced to live in fear of a prison sentence just for trying to feel healthier.
Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that frequently leads to obstruction, used to leave me too sick to even get out of bed other than to go to the bathroom or the doctor's office.
I was prescribed dozens of dangerous drugs such as Demerol and even endured useless surgical treatments.
I spent more hours in hospital emergency rooms than I care to remember.
I eventually discovered that marijuana was not only safe, it was also the only effective medicine I had ever tried.
Medical marijuana literally gave me my life back.
But I also felt tremendous fear of using it because this herbal remedy also is illegal.
I was left with a terrible choice: suffer and burden my family by being bedridden or risk arrest and jail to take the medicine that let me live.
The medical marijuana bill was named for Darrell Putman, a terminally ill cancer patient from Howard County who was forced to fear arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for using medical marijuana.
Mr. Putman's widow has now taken up the fight where he was forced to leave off. He died in 1999 waiting for our legislators to prioritize compassion over politics. How many more have to die before Maryland agrees to honor one simple plea: Stop incarcerating patients?
As a mother, I am as concerned as any other parent about the message I send my kids, as well as reducing the chances that they might ever abuse any drugs.
To this end, I have been honest with my kids about why I have taken marijuana and explained that marijuana, as any other drug, can be abused. They have no trouble understanding that it's not OK to abuse marijuana, just as it's not OK to abuse Demerol. What they can't understand is why anyone would want to put their mom in jail for taking medicine.
I applaud those Maryland leaders who are working to end this continuing travesty of justice, and I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction.
However, simply making it legal for a person to present the whole truth in court, after suffering the very real damage of arrest and prosecution, is not enough. It is only the very least we can do.
The continuing campaign by John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, against this modest first step toward protecting the sick and vulnerable is embarrassing and offensive. I dare Mr. Walters to walk in my shoes for just one day.
Those of us who need medical marijuana are not criminals. Jailing ill patients helps no one, hurts many and puts an even greater strain on an already stretched state budget. We can do better. I implore Governor Ehrlich to protect the weakest and most vulnerable of our citizens by signing the medical marijuana bill into law.
Erin Hildebrandt lives in Smithsburg.