February 08, 2002
By LAURA ERNDE
When he was a state trooper, Del. Thomas E. Hutchins arrested marijuana users.
Now, he wants judges to go easy on people who smoke pot for medical reasons.
If people like Hutchins can support medical marijuana use, surely the Maryland General Assembly can follow, advocates said at a press conference Thursday.
Del. Donald E. Murphy, R-Baltimore/Howard, has spent two years trying to legalize marijuana for medical use. Each time, his bills have died in the Judiciary Committee.
He hopes this year will be different and said he feels buoyed by the fact that at least 50 of his colleagues have pledged their support by cosponsoring his legislation. That's more than one-third of the 141 House members.
Two Washington County lawmakers are continuing their support - Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, and Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.
As a breast cancer survivor, Snodgrass said she saw how grueling the treatments can be.
Snodgrass said she did not use marijuana while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, but said the bill "is the right way to go."
"There are so many families out there that get marijuana illegally because they cannot watch their families suffer," she said.
Murphy named his bill after Darrell Putnam, a medical marijuana user who died of cancer shortly before the first medical marijuana bill was introduced in 2000. Putnam was a former Green Beret and operator of a horse carriage service in Frederick, Md.
Hutchins, R-Charles, said his support stems from knowing Putnam as a great soldier.
"I don't think he would have resorted to this lightly. That really hits home for me," Hutchins said.
"Cancer patients and AIDS patients, they don't have another year to wait," he said.
Murphy is trying a slightly different strategy this year. In addition to his bill, which would legalize marijuana for medical use, advocates are introducing two other bills that would take incremental steps toward legalization.
One would allow people charged with marijuana possession to use medical reasons as a defense in criminal court. That bill is sponsored by Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery.
The other, sponsored by Hutchins, would require a judge to take medical use into consideration at sentencing.
Murphy also made several changes to his comprehensive bill to ensure that the law wouldn't be abused.
Murphy's bill would exempt Marylanders from prosecution under state law if a doctor recommends they use it and they register with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
A patient or primary caregiver could grow up to seven marijuana plants indoors for medical use and possess up to three ounces of useable marijuana.
Doctors could recommend use for medical
conditions that include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, severe pain and nausea,
epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
The Associated Press contributed
to this story.
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