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Why Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Law May Need Revision

Picture of a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado, taken in March of 2012.
Picture of a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado, taken in March of 2012.
Picture of a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado, taken in March of 2012.
Credit Jeffrey Beall via flickr
Picture of a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado, taken in March of 2012.

Maryland’s medical marijuana law has been in effect for barely two months, and already there are people who say it needs to be reworked. They plan to ask the General Assembly to loosen some restrictions when it convenes in January so more people who need marijuana can get it faster.

The law allows medical marijuana to be sold only at academic medical centers. Baltimore County Delegate Dan Morhaim (D), lead sponsor of the law, says only five centers in Maryland qualify. And none of them appear interested in dispensing pot for medical purposes.

Morhaim says one or two may eventually step up and “be a very successful enterprise.” But that’s for them to decide. “If they all choose not to do it,Morhaimsays, “it’s time to look at the legislation and see what adjustments might be made.”

But Delegate Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore City Democrat, doesn’t want to wait and see. She says the academic medical center setup is too restrictive and she’ll try to change that come January. “If it’s like pulling hen’s teeth and the academic institutions aren’t that very excited about it, then what are we doing?”

A report released in April from the state Department of Legislative Services says the two largest academic medical centers, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System, have said they will not participate in the program. However, a Hopkins spokesman said recently the hospital would consider it. University of Maryland failed to respond to requests for comment.

Glenn says she wants a system where a doctor prescribes marijuana and patients can fill the prescriptions at licensed dispensaries. But that version of the medical marijuana law failed in the 2013 session. She says, however, she might have a better shot this time around.

For one thing, the Obama administration in August said federal law enforcement won’t crack down on well-run state medical marijuana programs. Glenn says the threat of federal interference made legislators and administration officials skittish about her less-restrictive approach. 

And she and Morhaim agree a medical marijuana game changer came from a famous TV doctor. CNN’s Doctor Sanjay Gupta changed his mind in August about medical marijuana and now supports it. “And since he’s one of the gurus of what’s good and not so good in health care,”Morhaimsaid, “his shifted position is dramatic and changed a lot of people’s attitudes about medical marijuana.”

Morhaim’s legislation created a state medical marijuana commission to set up the rules and regulations for the program. But the commission is newly formed and has met only three times. Morhaim says it needs more time to try to make the law work.

At a recent commission meeting, audience members included program job seekers, a mother who wants medical marijuana for her child with epilepsy, and businessmen who want in on the action, like Clayton Dalton from Washington County, who wants to grow legal weed for the program. Dalton has been a landscaper for 30 years. “Actually, at my age, that’s a bit strenuous,” says Dalton,and I’m looking for something a little more laid back.”

So, when will you be able to get medical marijuana in Maryland? Unless the law is changed, Glenn believes 2016, and only then if at least one academic medical center agrees to participate.

What the “Academic Medical Centers” Say

Here is a list of academic medical centers in Maryland that qualify to dispense medical marijuana to certain patients and their responses to questions of where they stand on the issue.

  • The Johns Hopkins Hospital: A Hopkins spokesman said recently the hospital is willing to talk to state officials about implementing a medical marijuana program. However, a state report earlier this year says Hopkins informed the state it will not participate.
  • The University of Maryland Medical System: That same legislative report says University of Maryland will not participate. A university spokesman did not return calls for comment.
  • MedStar Health: MedStarsays it does not plan to participate.
  • LifeBridge Health: A LifeBridge spokesman says the company is open to the idea, that it “certainly will consider all safe and proven treatment options that have the potential to alleviate pain and suffering for some of our patients.”
  • Greater Baltimore Medical Center: A GBMC spokesman failed to return calls for comment.

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