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Pushback on Marijuana Legalization

Last week, when the Maryland House of Delegates voted to put us on the road to legalization of medical marijuana, the bill was touted as addressing the medical needs of suffering patients. As reported in the Cumberland Times, the vote was a lopsided 108-28 in favor of the measure, but some citizens feel this is one step down the slippery slope towards legalization for recreational use.

Currently, our law allows those who show a medical need for cannabis to escape many of the penalties – the maximum punishment is a $100 fine if the drug is being used for medical necessity. The program envisioned in this bill would establish a supply chain for patients either through the federal government or growers licensed by the state. The bill doesn’t actually authorize or make medical marijuana legal as of yet, it just established a way forward and wouldn’t lead to marijuana in patient’s hands until at least 2016.

It’s significant that legislation is on the table however. Maryland does not allow initiatives that make law by popular vote, but has a referendum process instead. Ballot initiatives have been the mechanism by which medical marijuana became legal in other states. Because medical cannabis can only come by way of legislation, any movement in Annapolis is significant.

Those reacting to the bill see it as a step toward full legalization. One opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun says, “As with tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs, supporters of legalization will assure us there will be age limits on who can purchase and use marijuana. And we all know how well those limits have worked to keep teens from getting their hands on cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs in the past.”

The worry is that any benefits seen with legalization will be offset by easier access to marijuana by those who are harmed most. In an era where tobacco laws are becoming more strict, it’s a tough sell to ease restrictions on marijuana, a drug seen by the public as at least as dangerous as smoking.

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