Maryland liberalized its marijuana laws in this year's General Assembly session, including legalizing medical marijuana, but advocates say lawmakers fell short of the changes they wanted.

Lawmakers approved a bill to allow medical marijuana to be distributed through teaching hospitals attached to universities, where its effects can be studied. The General Assembly also passed a measure that allows caregivers of medical marijuana patients to get off the hook or get a $100 fine if they are arrested for pot possession. Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign both.

Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical marijuana. Advocates say they would be hesitant to call Maryland the 19th. Most other jurisdictions allow medical marijuana to be purchased at storefront dispensaries instead of academic medical centers.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, said that makes it harder for patients.

"The substantive stuff died, and the toothless, feckless, probably not even implementable stuff passed so Mr. O'Malley could tip his hat to the clear public want for reform and not actually do anything," St. Pierre said, attributing the weaker medical marijuana law's passage to O'Malley's desire to run for president in 2016.

St. Pierre said larger hospitals would shy away from dispensing medical marijuana for fear of losing federal funding.

Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical System have indicated that they do not intend to participate in any medical marijuana program.

A bill introduced in Congress would assure that state laws on pot are respected by the feds.

St. Pierre said a bill that passed the Senate but failed to make it out of a House committee -- which would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana -- would have been more meaningful.

Anti-drug groups see the bills' passage as a step back for the state. Drug Free America Foundation Executive Director Calvina Fay said distributing marijuana through medical centers and its researching its effects doesn't make the bill any more palatable. She said the effects of marijuana should go through all of the phases of regular medical research -- including animal testing -- before mass human testing is done.

"To have a mass experiment on human beings is just very dangerous and is not the way research is done in this country," Fay said.