Thursday, May 22, 2003
ONE FOR THE GOOD GUYS
Md. Gov. Signs Medical Marijuana Bill
By ANGELA POTTER
Associated Press Writer
May 22, 2003, 5:44 PM EDT
BALTIMORE -- Refusing to bend to pressure from the Bush administration, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed a bill Thursday that reduces criminal penalties for seriously ill people who smoke marijuana.
Ehrlich is the first GOP governor to sign a bill protecting medical marijuana patients from jail, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The Bush administration had pressed him to veto the measure.
Ehrlich had indicated his support for the bill early on as a way to help people with chronic illnesses ease their pain.
"This is a position I've had for many, many years," Ehrlich said Thursday. "It's not without controversy across parties, across chambers, across states, across the country."
The new law does not legalize marijuana, but reduces the penalty to a maximum $100 fine with no jail time if defendants convince a judge they need marijuana for medical reasons. Previously, possession or use of marijuana brought penalties of up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.
Supporters of the legislation say smoking marijuana can ease the symptoms of serious illnesses such as cancer or AIDS and help patients suffering from nausea hold down food and medications.
Opponents, including White House drug czar John P. Walters, have objected that marijuana is a false and illegal remedy.
"It would be truly unfortunate if today's actions led, however unintentionally, to greater use or availability of dangerous drugs in Maryland," Walters said.
Eight other states -- Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Maine -- have medical marijuana laws.
In Washington, House Republicans want to move drug enforcement money from state and local police officers to federal agents in states that have legalized medical marijuana.
Copyright (c) 2003, The Associated Press
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