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Drug Testing News
toward medical marijuana
Fri May 23, 7:09 AM ET
Richard Willing USA TODAY
Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed a law Thursday that will
greatly reduce penalties for disease sufferers who use
marijuana to relieve pain.
The new law sets a maximum fine of $100 for ''medical
marijuana'' users who have less than an ounce of the leaf. It
makes Maryland the 10th state since 1996 to ease or eliminate
sanctions for medical use of the herb, which gained wide use
during the 1960s because of its euphoric effects.
Maryland's move is a setback for the Bush administration,
which had called on Ehrlich, a fellow Republican, to reject
The White House has made marijuana a particular target of its
anti-drug efforts, arguing that users often move on to more
dangerous drugs. It has campaigned against medical marijuana
proposals in several states, prosecuted distributors and
growers of medical pot in California, and urged Canadian
officials to reject a plan to eliminate criminal penalties for
most marijuana users in that country.
Despite those efforts, lawmakers in states across the nation
have shown a willingness to separate marijuana from other
banned drugs. That's largely because of claims by scientists
and patients that the drug's most active ingredient,
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can ease pain and nausea and
improve the appetites of those suffering from AIDS (news - web
sites), cancer, glaucoma and other ailments.
Since last fall, 13 state legislatures have considered medical
marijuana bills. The only proposal to have become law is
Maryland's, which allows those whose doctors prescribe
marijuana for medicinal purposes to avoid facing the $1,000
fine and one year in jail that recreational users would face.
''The Bush administration has come into this fight with guns
blazing, but the trend line is clearly running against them,''
says Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst at the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a group
in Washington, D.C., that wants pot to be legal. ''This is
being driven by continuing evidence of (marijuana's) medicinal
value and by testimony of actual patients.''
Tom Riley, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Policy,
calls Maryland's medical marijuana law ''unfortunate.''
Some think ''that (marijuana) is a powerful medicine denied to
those who are suffering,'' he says. ''But NORML and other
well-organized, well-funded groups backing these laws aren't
medical groups. They've got an agenda to legalize all
Marijuana, which is usually smoked but can be taken in pill
form, produces a sense of dreaminess and mild elation. Kitty
Tucker, a Takoma Park, Md., attorney disabled by migraine
headaches and a neuromuscular disorder, says smoking small
amounts of pot lessens her pain and improves muscle control.
Migraines, she says, used to ''feel like an axe chopping at
the base of my skull.'' Marijuana does not relieve all the
pain, but ''it keeps me from wanting to jump off a bridge.''
The bipartisan group that pushed Maryland's plan was
influenced by such stories.
A sponsor in the state Senate, Republican David Brinkley, says
he was moved by accounts of cancer patients who said pot,
unlike prescribed painkillers, allowed them to stay alert
while being treated for pain.
Ehrlich had a brother-in-law whose unsuccessful battle with
cancer would have been made easier by marijuana, an aide to
the governor says.
Riley says advocates for medical marijuana laws understate the
''Most people's impression was formed in the 1960s and the
1970s . . . that the worst thing it causes is the munchies,''
Riley says. ''Public health information in the past 10 years
has made clear its addictive properties, and what a large
percentage of other drug problems it is implicated in.''