February 21, 2012
In the wake of Maryland's decision last year to make use of medical marijuana legally defensible, the General Assembly is considering what kind of system would facilitate getting the herb to those who, under a doctor's care, need it.
After all, cancer patients, glaucoma sufferers and others who find relief in medical marijuana should not have to resort to a rendezvous with a street-corner dealer — a transaction that, of course, is still illegal.
Three approaches are being considered in legislation, two of which emerged from a special panel charged with making recommendations on legalizing the practical aspects of medical marijuana.
One, backed by panelist Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, essentially would make medical marijuana part of a big research project. The drug would be dispensed to patients under supervision at specific research institutions in the state.
We think this is geographically restrictive. What if an ill Marylander does not live near one of these institutions?
Also, it's possible that research institutions could find federal grants in jeopardy — using pot, even for medical purposes, is still illegal under federal law.
The second proposal to emerge from the panel — and the one that we think makes the most sense — comes with the endorsement of Del. Daniel Morhaim, of District 11, the legislature's only medical doctor.
This plan would create a network of state-sanctioned dispensaries and growers that would work with physicians in providing medical marijuana while also providing for data collection.
We think this option strikes a balance between effective distribution to any who need medical marijuana and doctor-supervised safeguards from abuse.
This past week, Morhaim submitted both plans as legislation to be considered in the House of Delegates. Senate versions of the bills were expected to follow suit this week.
A third plan, which is not endorsed by the panel, is a grow-your-own proposal. Del. Cheryl Glenn, from District 45 in the city, suggests home cultivation by qualified patients as the way to go. While this has the appeal of simplicity, it lacks quality control — and would require some green-thumb abilities on the part of patients.
With medical marijuana legal for medical use, someone has to grow it, someone has to distribute it and someone has to supervise the system.
We think the Morhaim-endorsed plan, which will license growers and distributors under the supervision of medical professionals, is the most practical approach.