Bush Administration Opposes Bill; Ehrlich Signs It
May 23, 2003
Gov. Robert Ehrlich's decision to sign a medical marijuana bill strongly opposed by the Bush administration will help many patients end their suffering, supporters said Thursday.
"These are people who are suffering. They're dying. It will help those people," said Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, a sponsor of the bill and an emergency room doctor at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.
Despite opposition from some Republicans, Ehrlich had indicated support for the bill early on because of his belief that people can differentiate between legalizing the drug and allowing those dying of chronic illnesses to alleviate their pain.
"This is a position I've had for many, many years," Ehrlich said at Thursday's signing ceremony. "It is not without controversy. It's not without controversy across parties, across chambers, across states, across the country."
Ehrlich, however, said he didn't think signing the bill would damage his relationship with the White House.
"Certainly we received a lot of pressure from the administration," the first-term governor said. "This is an issue I have dealt with for a decade. My views are well-known."
Ehrlich's former GOP colleagues in the House of Representatives are acting to take drug enforcement money from state and local police officers in states where marijuana for medical use has been legalized.
The new law does not legalize marijuana, but reduces the penalty to a maximum $100 fine with no jail time. Defendants, however, must 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.
Eight other states -- Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Maine -- have medical marijuana laws.
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 help patients suffering from nausea hold down food and medications.
Opponents, 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.
"I suspect that Gov. Ehrlich acted with the best of intentions, with an honest desire to help people, but it looks like he may have been misled on the actual science and public health issues here," Walters said Thursday in response to the signing. "It would be truly unfortunate if today's actions led, however unintentionally, to greater use or availability of dangerous drugs in Maryland."
Joe McGeeney, Elks State Drug Awareness chairman for Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia, said he was disappointed in the governor's decision to sign the bill and vowed to help repeal it.
"It's sending the wrong message to our kids that it's OK to use because there is medicinal powers," he said. "Other states that have approved [similar bills] have seen a sharp increase in the youth smoking marijuana."
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Copyright © 2003 by The Associated Press