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More MS news articles for June 2003

Marijuana bill right on target

In signing this legislation, Ehrlich kept another promise

Sunday, June 1, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich added another star to his "did what I said I would" column when he signed legislation that would permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Approving the measure was controversial, especially among his Republican brethren, and could cause problems down the road for Ehrlich.

The new law sharply reduces the penalty for marijuana possession when the defendant is seeking relief from symptoms of cancer, AIDS and other devastating illnesses. In his supporting comments, the new governor made clear his belief that even those people opposed to marijuana decriminalization differentiate between legalizing the drug and allowing those dying of chronic illnesses to alleviate their pain.

The case has long been made that smoking marijuana can ease the symptoms of serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease. There is medical testimony showing that use of the controversial drug can help patients who are suffering from nausea hold down food and vital medications.

In signing the measure, Ehrlich literally stood up to the Bush administration in the person of John P. Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Walters has said repeatedly that marijuana is a fraudulent remedy and that those who support medicinal marijuana possess the ultimate motive of legalization.

As President Bush's drug czar, Walters has even asked Congress to cut off federal drug enforcement money to local police in states that permit marijuana for medical purposes. Eight other states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- have medical marijuana laws.

Walters waged a last-minute campaign to block Ehrlich from signing the measure. He predicted the governor and Maryland General Assembly would actually increase the state's addiction problems through their "cynical, cruel and immoral effort to use the sick and suffering" to legalize marijuana.

The governor and legislators did the right thing. Their decision merely helps people in need. Those who abuse the drug will still face the proper penalties. Despite Walters' and others' arguments to the contrary, there is no slippery-slope analogy to be found on this issue.

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