Legal protections passed for medical marijuana caregivers
Bill headed to governor's desk
"We are expressing our belief that people who are sick should be able to access the drug without civil or criminal penalties," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who introduced the bill.
Patients are protected under a 2011 law that allows them to use medical necessity as an "affirmative defense" in court if caught with marijuana and drug paraphernalia. On Monday, the House of Delegates voted 92-37 to approve a bill extending that defense for patients' caregivers. The Senate has passed the same bill.
The measure now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk. Spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said he has not decided whether to sign it.
Under the bill, caregivers — as well as patients — could still be charged with a crime for possessing the drug. But the legislation spells out how caregivers could prove themselves not guilty because they had the drug and paraphernalia to help a family member who takes it for medical reasons.
If defendants can prove an affirmative defense, they can admit to the circumstances of the crime but still be found not guilty. Self-defense is an example of another type of affirmative defense.
Raskin said current law provides that legal reprieve to patients with serious illnesses who, under a doctor's care, take marijuana to lessen symptoms. Without the bill approved this week, Raskin said, those patients are not able to get the drug without their caregivers facing jail time.
To use the affirmative defense, a caregiver must be 21 years old, a Maryland resident, an immediate family member of the patient and have been designated as the caregiver in writing before being arrested for possession. In addition, the caregiver can't have criminal convictions for drugs or violence and can only be a caregiver to one patient.
The bill is among several marijuana laws being considered in Annapolis this session.
The House, but not the Senate, has approved creating the state's first medical marijuana program, which would distribute the drug to patients through academic centers. The O'Malley administration supports that bill.
The Senate, but not the House, has approved a bill that makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana — roughly one-third of an ounce — a civil offense instead of a criminal one.
Another bill that would completely decriminalize marijuana, then regulate and tax it like alcohol, received a committee hearing in the House but has not been voted on. Lawmakers have until the General Assembly adjourns April 8 to pass legislation this year
Civil rights leader arrested on marijuana possession charges
Arrest comes on the heels of announcement he plans to sue county executive, take leave from job
Carl O. Snowden, civil rights chief for the Maryland Attorney General's Office, was arrested for alleged marijuana possession Friday while he was on probation for a drunken-driving conviction, according to online court records.
He could face 60 days in jail if prosecutors pursue a probation violation charge against him.
The arrest comes on the heels of an announcement that Snowden will temporarily step down from his state position so he can sue the county, which he claims wrongly gathered information about him for political purposes.
Snowden, 58, sent a certified letter on April 10 to County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson outlining his intent to sue, as required by law, Cary J. Hansel III, Snowden's attorney, said in an interview Saturday.
In the suit, Snowden is expected to claim he suffered emotional distress after County Executive John R. Leopold was accused in a criminal indictment of ordering a security detail to compile a dossier about him, the letter said. Snowden's attorney demanded $20 million to settle the case. That offer stands only until the suit is officially filed, according to the letter.
The lawsuit will probably be filed in two weeks, Hansel said in an earlier interview.
The marijuana arrest was first reported Sunday by Capital Gazette Communications, which noted that the charge came on April 20, or "4/20" — a sort of counterculture holiday for pot enthusiasts. The number 420 has long been associated with marijuana, though its origins are unclear.
Few details of the arrest were immediately available. Police said a copy of the charging statement in the case would not be available until Monday.
In an emailed statement, Hansel said Sunday that another man was in the car with Snowden at the time of his arrest.
"We are confident that Mr. Snowden will not be found guilty," Hansel wrote. "This is such a small amount that such minimal possession is a minor misdemeanor."
He did not address the possibility of a probation violation.
Snowden was placed on three years' probation in early 2011 after being convicted of driving while impaired by alcohol on Route 97 near Farm Road in Anne Arundel County in June 2010. He was given a suspended 60-day sentence, which could be reinstated if he's found guilty on the marijuana charge. His trial date in that case is set for May 3.
"Carl Snowden has spent a lifetime in the civil rights struggle and this nonissue will not distract him from continuing the fight," Hansel said in his statement. "The few remaining anti-civil rights stalwarts will seize on this nonissue to attempt to criticize Mr. Snowden and detract from his many accomplishments. Anyone who does so will soon be embarrassed as the facts develop and Mr. Snowden is not found guilty."
David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General's Office, said Snowden's unpaid leave of absence took effect Friday.
"Anything involving the charges as reported will not be handled in any way by the attorney general's office," Paulson said.
The Maryland Attorney General's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the charges against Snowden or his plans to take a leave of absence to sue Anne Arundel County.
The Maryland state prosecutor charged County Executive Leopold, a Republican, last month with four counts of misconduct in office and one count of misappropriation of county funds. The indictment alleged that Leopold directed his taxpayer-funded security detail to perform personal and political tasks, including compiling dossiers on political enemies. Leopold has said he is innocent of the charges and will fight them in court.
The suit is based on information released by prosecutors in the indictment and statements made before the County Council, said Hansel.
It is being filed now, before the criminal prosecution against Leopold concludes, in order to diminish the time available for evidence to be lost or destroyed, he said. A police official told the County Council that one file of personal information that was gathered has already been shredded, he said.
Lt. Col. Emerson C. Davis, the county's deputy police chief, who testified before the County Council this month, said he had seen Police Chief Col. James E. Teare Sr. destroy a file on a state employee who had alleged that Leopold sexually harassed her. Davis told the council that he saw no legitimate reason for police to have the file.
Beginning next week, Snowden plans to take a leave from his job in the attorney general's office so he can "pursue these claims freely without the appearance of conflict," according to an earlier statementfrom Hansel.
Snowden plans to spend time with his family and travel "with an eye toward furthering his civil rights agenda," Hansel said.
The notification letter was also sent to the state treasurer, said Hansel, who does not expect the suit will be filed against the state.
An Anne Arundel County police spokesman declined to comment.
Leopold's spokesman directed inquiries to Hodgson, who said it was premature to discuss the case.
"If and when he files a lawsuit, then we'll evaluate it at that time," Hodgson said.
On Thursday the Delaware Senate passed a medical marijuana bill by a 18 to 3 vote.
The legislation is based on a model from the Marijuana Policy Project, meaning it’s a solid bill.
It would make medical cannabis legal for certain medical conditions, and allow patients to posses up to six ounces of medicine.
Conditions that would make a patient eligible for marijuana use include cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s really a compassion bill,” said chief sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington.
Compassion. Such a noble concept, but made out to be such a controversial issue. There should be nothing controversial about medical cannabis. If someone with MS needs to smoke a joint to relieve their pain, who has the right to deny them that option?
Nobody. The answer is nobody.
By BRIAN WITTE
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS March 1, 2011, 10:12AM ET
Maryland's health secretary said Monday he opposes the current version of a bill to legalize medical marijuana because the department lacks the resources to oversee the system to dispense it and the medical use of the drug remains controversial.
However, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein also told a panel of lawmakers the department would be willing to help them study the issue this year to look for a "more feasible option."
Opposition from Sharfstein is significant, because the measure makes the health department responsible for overseeing growers, licensing sellers and doing other administrative jobs. Sharfstein, the former No. 2 official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, became secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in January.
"The use of the marijuana plant itself for medical purposes is controversial," Sharfstein said. "This is not just because marijuana is a controlled substance. It is also because marijuana, unlike approved pharmaceuticals, has not been characterized, studied, and determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe and effective."
Sharfstein noted that the legislation is tailored to provide marijuana to patients and prevent it from being diverted to illegal markets, but he also said marijuana is the most common drug reported by people under the age of 20 who are admitted to treatment programs in Maryland. That includes more than 6,000 admissions each year.
"Despite the regulatory structure established by the legislation, the department has concerns that the bill may not achieve its intended goals," Sharfstein said.
The measure calls on the health department to establish security and safety standards for growers, who would be chosen by the department. It also would license marijuana dispensaries and create a computerized system to track the amount of marijuana dispensed to individuals. In addition, Sharfstein said the department would review applications for patient eligibility, monitor appropriate clinical care by physicians and oversee the pricing.
Sharfstein said oversight of such a large system would require a significant investment.
"Our initial review of the resource needs for our department to handle these responsibilities in the legislation as written found that the cost would easily reach at least several million dollars," Sharfstein said.
He said more study is needed to examine implementation and costs.
"The department is willing to participate in a study this year to identify a more feasible option for the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Maryland," he said.
Delegate Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and physician who is sponsoring the bill, said he's ready to work with the department to address the secretary's concerns, and he said he hoped to address some of the issues during the current legislative session, which ends April 11.
"We can find amendments to set up something this session, or even just a study bill this session," Morhaim said. "I think that would be very positive."
Last year, the Maryland Senate passed a bill to allow physician-approved use of marijuana, but members of the House of Delegates wanted more time to study the idea.
In 2003, Maryland approved a law limiting sentencing to a $100 fine for people who use marijuana if they have a medical excuse. But critics of that law say it still drives people whose pain could be alleviated by marijuana into alleys to buy from drug dealers.