Posted on Fri, May. 23, 2003
Maryland Gov. Ehrlich signs marijuana law
By Lori Montgomery
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed legislation Thursday to dramatically reduce criminal penalties for cancer patients and others who smoke marijuana to relieve suffering, but the new law will not allow seriously ill people to obtain the drug legally.
The measure, which takes effect Oct. 1, merely makes "medical necessity" a defense against charges of marijuana possession. Instead of facing a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, those who can convince a judge that they use marijuana to relieve symptoms of a chronic or life-threatening illness will have to pay a fine of no more than $100.
Though the Maryland law falls short of measures in California and seven other states where marijuana use is legal for medical purposes, advocates said it sends an important message of support to sick people and their caregivers -- as well as to police and prosecutors, who might otherwise brand them criminals.
"It helps a little bit," said Erin Hildebrandt, 32, a mother of five from Smithsburg who has used marijuana to relieve pain from Crohn's disease. "At least I know I'm not going to be hauled off to prison if I'm caught."
While the practical effects of the law may be limited, the political fallout could be substantial. Ehrlich is only the second governor in the nation -- and the first Republican -- to sign such legislation.
The other eight measures were enacted by ballot initiative. A medical marijuana initiative also won approval from Washington D.C. voters but has been blocked by Congress. In addition, 21 states, including Virginia, have approved largely symbolic laws or resolutions recognizing marijuana's medicinal value.
Ehrlich's decision to sign the bill puts him at odds with conservatives in his party and with the Bush White House, which lobbied hard and applied "a lot of pressure," Ehrlich said, to persuade him to veto the bill.
Tom Riley, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, confirmed that White House drug czar John Walters and his deputy telephoned Ehrlich to express the administration's opposition. Walters, who has launched a national campaign against efforts to relax state drug laws, has said that arguments for medicinal marijuana make no more sense than "an argument for medicinal crack."
Ehrlich "probably acted with the best of intentions with the idea of wanting to help people but was badly briefed on the science and public health aspect of the measure," Riley said Thursday.
Ehrlich's decision also outraged many of his supporters, who accused the new governor of being duped by groups that seek access to marijuana for recreational use and are exploiting sick people to get their foot in the door. The Maryland law was backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based organization that supports decriminalization.
"This is a rotten and wrongheaded piece of work that will benefit the pro-marijuana lobby and the potheads of Maryland," said Malcolm Lawrence of Chevy Chase, a former State Department official in charge of international narcotics control in the Nixon and Carter administrations.
Ehrlich seemed unconcerned by the uproar. He acknowledged that the marijuana law was "controversial even within our administration," which is why he took nearly two months to decide whether to sign it.
In the U.S. House, Ehrlich co-sponsored a bill that would have authorized states to stake out their own positions on medical marijuana, free from the pressures of federal drug policy. In the end, he said he chose to stay true to his "long-held view" that people deserve compassion in "end-of-life situations."
The Bush administration has "a very legitimate viewpoint. I respect 'em. I love 'em. Obviously, I'm a major W fan," Ehrlich said, using the president's nickname.
"But if you look at my views over the years, there are clearly two wings of the party on social issues. One is more conservative, and one is more libertarian. I belong to the latter, and I always have."
UNITED STATES Maryland's governor signs law for medical use of marijuana
BALTIMORE -- Refusing to bend to pressure from the Bush administration, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed a bill Thursday that reduces criminal penalties for seriously ill people who smoke marijuana.
Ehrlich is the first GOP governor to sign a bill protecting medical marijuana patients from jail, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The Bush administration had pressed him to veto the measure.
Ehrlich had indicated his support for the bill early on as a way to help people with chronic illnesses ease their pain.
"This is a position I've had for many, many years," Ehrlich said Thursday.
"It's not without controversy across parties, across chambers, across states, across the country."
The new law does not legalize marijuana, but reduces the penalty to a maximum $100 fine with no jail time if defendants convince a judge they need marijuana for medical reasons. Previously, possession or use of marijuana brought penalties of up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.
Supporters of the legislation say smoking marijuana can ease the symptoms of serious illnesses such as cancer or AIDS and help patients suffering from nausea hold down food and medications.
Opponents, including White House drug czar John P. Walters, have objected that marijuana is a false and illegal remedy
Posted on Thu, May. 22, 2003
GOP Wants to Redistribute Anti-Drug Money
WASHINGTON - House Republicans want to move drug enforcement money from state and local police officers to federal agents in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use.
The GOP-sponsored legislation would also allow the Bush administration's drug policy office to launch an advertising campaign to deliver the message that marijuana should not be legalized.
Both provisions were initiated by Congress, but they clearly reflect the Bush administration's desire to strictly enforce marijuana laws. Federal law does not permit legalization for medical use, although eight states allow it.
The overall legislation would keep the Office of National Drug Control Policy in business another five years.
Tom Riley, spokesman for White House drug policy director John Walters, said: "One of the duties of the drug czar is to oppose efforts to legalize drugs. There's a concern in Congress that marijuana is more harmful than most people perceive. They want to make sure this agency keeps a focus on that."
Walters has traveled the country to speak out against easing marijuana laws, but Riley said there were no issue-oriented ads planned. However, he added, "We want as much flexibility as possible."
The House Government Reform Committee was expected to add language prohibiting ads expressly advocating support or defeat of a candidate or ballot question.
Groups opposed to strict criminal enforcement of marijuana laws said more than $11 million could be eliminated from state and local police budgets in "high-intensity" drug trafficking areas. The money would go to federal law enforcement officers because local police could not enforce all marijuana laws in states that legalized the drug for medical use.
The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform criminal justice subcommittee. His staff director, Chris Donesa, said the switch is needed because the federal government would take on an added burden, but emphasized the money would be used in the same high-intensity areas.
Donesa added that local and federal officers work together in those areas anyway, so there would be little practical effect.
Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project said his group was especially concerned about the possibility of huge advertising expenditures by the White House in an attempt to influence elections.
"This leaves them free to run ads saying medicinal marijuana is a lie and a ploy to legalize marijuana for all purposes," he said.
Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance called the potential issue advertising "a shell game. It would take money from taxpayers and most taxpayers will see through it."
Piper said the reallocation of money to federal officers would move the focus from heroin and cocaine trafficking to enforcement against medical marijuana patients.
The states with medical marijuana laws are Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Maine.
Voters last November defeated a Nevada measure to legalize possession of up to three ounces of marijuana; an Arizona initiative that would have made pot possession equivalent to a traffic violation; and a South Dakota initiative that would have legalized hemp farms.
I am sorry to put so many articles in one post but I feel they are all related. If you read the first two they are basically the same just different sources. It's the third one that I have trouble with. I think if these measures do pass any other efforts to have marijuana legal for medicinal uses in new states will be lost. What a shame. -motaman