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More MS news articles for October 2003

New laws take effect Wednesday

Medical marijuana, booster seats among Maryland mandates

Monday, September 29, 2003
Tom Stuckey
Associated Press Writer

Beginning Wednesday, children under age 6 will be required to use booster seats when traveling on Maryland highways once they have outgrown their child safety seats.

The law mandating use of booster seats is one of dozens of new laws that take effect Oct. 1.

"It will save lives by closing a gap in Maryland's child passenger safety laws," Delegate William Bronrott, one of the sponsors of the new law, said Friday.

"Because highway crashes are the major cause of death and disabling injuries of children, there is nothing more important that we can do than ensure that children of this age group are properly protected," he said.

Under current law, children who are at least 4 years old or weigh more than 40 pounds can sit on regular seats so long as they wear a seat belt. But the minimum age for using a regular seat belt will increase to 6 years old as a result of a law passed by the legislature in 2002 that takes effect Wednesday.

Child safety advocates say seat belts are not safe for smaller children because the shoulder harness often crosses a child's throat while the lap belt crosses the soft tissue of the stomach instead of the hip bones.

Bronrott said booster seats are light, portable, easy to use and less costly than safety seats, with some models selling for less than $30.

Another new law will dramatically reduce penalties for people charged with violating marijuana laws who can convince judges they were using marijuana for a legitimate medical purpose.

The maximum punishment under the law is a fine of $100 with no jail time.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed the bill in May despite White House pressure to veto it.

"Certainly, we received a lot of pressure from the (Bush) administration" to veto the bill, Ehrlich said on the day he approved it. But he said he had a long record of supporting the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Advocates of medical marijuana say it relieves nausea for many people undergoing treatment for cancer and can help alleviate symptoms of other illnesses such as Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and AIDS.

Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, said Maryland's approach of eliminating all criminal penalties except a small fine is unique. Eight states have laws legalizing medical marijuana.

"It's certainly not the ideal answer," Mirken said. But he said the law "at least keeps the threat of prison away from people who can document they have a legitimate medical need."

Advocates of stronger drunken driving laws hope some lives will be saved by a law that makes it illegal to get behind the wheel of a car within 12 hours of being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Called John's law, it was named for John Elliott, a Naval Academy graduate who was killed three years ago by a driver who had been arrested three hours earlier for drunken driving.

Two other new laws are intended to help prevent stalking and identify theft.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence hope a new stalking law will make it easier to get convictions and protect potential victims.

The major change in the law will allow prosecutors to file charges in cases where people who are harassed have a reasonable fear of being harmed. The current law requires proof of intent to harm someone before a conviction can be obtained.

The new law dealing with identify theft will increase the maximum fine from $5,000 to $25,000 for using someone else's name or credit to buy goods or property.

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