April 5th, 2003
By John Biemer
A bill that would reduce criminal penalties for seriously ill people who smoke marijuana is headed to the governor.
The state Senate approved a medical marijuana bill on Friday by a vote of 30-16. The legislation would set a maximum fine of $100 and no jail time for defendants who can convince a judge they need to smoke marijuana for medical reasons.
Under current state law, possession or use of marijuana can bring penalties of up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich has repeatedly said that he supports the concept of medical marijuana, but has not taken a stand on the legislation headed to his desk.
Backers of the legislation say smoking marijuana can ease the symptoms of serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, and can help patients suffering from nausea hold down food and medications.
But some Republicans in Washington, including White House drug czar John P. Walters, have been pressuring Ehrlich to veto the measure, which they say offers a false and illegal remedy to the sick.
Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said Ehrlich ''appreciates the input'' from the Bush administration, but ''there certainly is a difference in philosophy when it comes to medical marijuana.''
States with medical marijuana laws include Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska and
© Copyright 2003 Associated Press