A panel that met Wednesday to explore whether Maryland should modify its marijuana laws may have come up with the most practical proposal yet to allow the medical use of marijuana by people suffering from chronic pain or illness, while discouraging the abuses that have plagued other states' efforts to legalize the drug. The plan, which involves giving schools and hospitals the lead role in administering the drug, appears to offer the best chance yet of passing both legal and medical muster.
Maryland's current approach to the medical use of marijuana is decidedly ambivalent. In 2003, the state legislature sharply reduced the penalties for patients convicted of possession of small amounts of the drug if they could prove a "medical necessity" in court. But the law still made possession of the drug a crime that left patients with a conviction on their records — and it made judges, rather than doctors, the ultimate arbiters of what is medically necessary. Most vexing of all, the law made no provision for people to buy the drug legally; as a result, even people who claimed a medical necessity had to break the law every time they purchased it.
This year, the state Senate passed a bill that would have allowed doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to some patients. It also established the framework for a strictly regulated network of state-sanctioned dispensaries and marijuana growers to supply the drug. But the effort stalled in the House of Delegates, largely because of questions raised by Maryland Health Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein, who cited the lack of scientific consensus over the potential risks and benefits of medical marijuana. The proposal was also opposed by law enforcement organizations on the grounds it would be too difficult to limit marijuana use to medical patients.