ANNAPOLIS - Maryland would join its neighbors in the District in allowing marijuana for medical use under a bill passed with little opposition by the House of Delegates on Monday.
The legislation, which passed 100-28, would create a process for medical marijuana to be prescribed and distributed through academic medical centers -- typically hospitals that are part of universities.
The Maryland approach differs from that of D.C. and many of the 18 other states that allow medical marijuana, which have private growers and sellers distribute marijuana to patients who have obtained a doctor's prescription.
|Also in Annapolis|
|Monday was the deadline for bills to pass out of their chamber of origin without facing an additional procedural hurdle. Here's what the General Assembly did:|
|• The House passed a bill to help implement the federal health care overhaul -- an area where Maryland has been at the forefront. It now goes to the Senate.|
|• The House approved a measure capping price increases during states of emergency, such as natural disasters or attacks. It now goes to the Senate.|
|• The House passed a bill allowing people less than 25 years old who commit a nonviolent misdemeanor to have that shielded from being discovered on background checks. Only one offense could be shielded, but it would not be expunged from a convict's criminal record. The measure now goes to the Senate.|
|• The Senate passed a bill allowing law enforcement officers to pull over people who use cellphones while driving. A similar measure passed the House last week.|
|• The Senate approved a measure allowing casinos to hand out free promotional cash to people playing table games without counting it as taxable income. It now goes to the House.|
Maryland's plan of having the program administered by teaching hospitals allows the effects of medical marijuana to be researched by the people dispensing it.
The research aspect of the bill has drawn the support of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, which has traditionally taken no position on medical marijuana legislation.
"What happens is, we have the doctors who think if it alleviates pain we should be able to use it, and then we have the physicians who worry about their offices becoming havens for drug seekers," MedChi CEO Gene Ransom said.
"We like [the bill] because it creates a pathway through an academic center. We can find out if there are ways to use it to better society."
The commission that would be set up to license and approve the medical centers for dispensing marijuana would be named for Natalie M. LaPrade, mother of Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore. LaPrade, who died three years ago from kidney cancer, had no appetite toward the end of her life because of her cancer treatment, Glenn said.
"I just wanted to give a face to those people who are suffering and dying because of illnesses that create a lack of ability to eat, which is where medical marijuana would help patients," Glenn said.
"This is groundbreaking legislation, and I'm honored to have it named after my mom," she said, to the applause of many in the House chamber.
The measure has the best chance of passing of many in recent years as Gov. Martin O'Malley has removed a threat of veto, which has historically prevented medical marijuana legislation from advancing.
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Joshua Sharfstein told lawmakers earlier this month that he supported the bill, if it contained a provision that allowed the governor to suspend the program if the federal government -- which still schedules marijuana as an illegal drug -- pursued charges against the state or its workers.
The measure now heads to the Senate, where the House sponsor -- emergency room physician and Baltimore County Democratic Del. Dan Morhaim -- says he is hopeful of its chances to pass. The Senate recently approved a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Virginia advocates of medical marijuana made no headway during the 2013 legislative session, which ended last month.