A bill to allow some medical marijuana use has passed the Maryland Legislature, and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Martin O’Malley. If O’Malley signs the bill as expected, Maryland would become the 19th state to legalize a medical marijuana program, in addition to the District of Columbia. The bill, however, is more limited than other state programs. It would authorize academic centers to administer marijuana through medical research programs that also study the effects of the drug, a structure O’Malley has called a “yellow light” approach since it doesn’t allow private medical marijuana dispensaries. It would also limit the number of centers that can disseminate marijuana and the number of patients per center, meaning that it may not cover many potential medical marijuana patients. What’s more, several of the state’s major universities — the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University — have already indicated they don’t plan to participate. In spite of the bill’s limitations, the program could facilitate more expansive research on marijuana — a development that could in turn help persuade the Drug Enforcement Administration to reconsider its designation of the plant as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use. It will be a long road, however, as the program isn’t expected to go into effect until 2016.
Following successful ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, a number of other states introduced medical marijuana bills this year, while others have considered bills decriminalizing possession or legalizing recreational use. Maryland already has a law that allows individuals arrested for marijuana to raise medical necessity as a defense if they possess less than an ounce, but a bill to decriminalize the drug died earlier this year.