A bipartisan group of state lawmakers vowed Friday to pass legislation this year to create a workable medical marijuana program that would cover children with debilitating conditions as well as adults.
Dels. Cheryl D. Glenn and Dan K. Morhaim, sponsors of two bills that would replace legislation passed last year that is widely regarded as a failure, said they would meld their two versions into a single measure. One change they expect to make in the original bills next week is to remove provisions restricting the therapeutic use of cannabis to adults.
"It would be immoral not to allow our children to get medicine that could in many cases be life-saving," said Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat.
The news conference came as the House opened hearings on the two bills, each of which could remove roadblocks to patient access to therapeutic forms of cannabis.
Last year, the General Assembly passed, and Gov. Martin O'Malley signed, a watered-down version of a medical marijuana bill that restricts its distribution to academic medical centers. None of the state's medical centers has stepped forward to operate such a program.
Pain experts have told a legislative work group that marijuana is safe and effective in relieving symptoms of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, side effects of cancer treatment and other conditions.
The Glenn and Morhaim bills would allow a physician with a bona fide treatment relationship with a patient who has a serious condition that might be eased by marijuana to write a prescription for the drug. Morhaim's bill would require that the physician be associated with a hospital or hospice; Glenn's would not.
Both bills would license marijuana growers. Morhaim's bill would let patients buy directly from those growers. Glenn's would establish treatment centers that would buy marijuana and distribute it to qualifying patients.
Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and the legislature's only physician, said a medical marijuana program can be safe.
"Physicians prescribe drugs that are more dangerous than medical marijuana every single day," he said.
In past years, adult cancer patients have often been the most persuasive advocates. This year, mothers of children with severe forms of epilepsy took center stage.
Paige Figi of Colorado Springs said her 7-year-old daughter found relief from her epilepsy by using Charlotte's Web, a cannabis derivative designed for use in children but illegal under Maryland and federal law. She said her daughter went from having 2,000 potentially lethal seizures a month to two or three.
"She's walking, talking, eating. She has a life now," Figi told lawmakers. She said Charlotte's Web, an oil put under the tongue, does not make patients high.
Cheryl Meyer of Baltimore said she wishes her son Gavin had had access to cannabis before he died in November at age 2 years and 5 months of complications from epilepsy. She said her son's pediatrician believed that medical marijuana might have helped but could not write a prescription under Maryland law.
Shannon Moore of Frederick hopes her 3-year-old twin sons' story has a different ending. The boys, Nicolas and Byron DeLiyannis, have a condition called Miller-Dieker syndrome that gives them severe seizures daily.
Moore said the prescription drugs they take are ineffective and have life-threatening side effects. She is encouraged about what she's heard about the use of cannabis to control seizures in children.
"There's no reason in my mind why children in some states have access to medical marijuana but not in Maryland," she said. "I don't know if this medicine will help my children, but I know that it will help many children."