September 8 marks the first day Ohio’s medical marijuana law will be in effect, bringing new protections for qualified medical marijuana patients. Under the law’s “affirmative defense,” patients will no longer be subject to criminal conviction for possessing marijuana if they meet certain requirements. However, protections are limited, and they fall short of providing access to medical cannabis in Ohio, not expected for at least a year.
The affirmative defense provides limited, temporary protections for patients while the formal program rolls out. Among other things, it requires a signed letter from a licensed physician, including information about the patient and the medical condition treated. Importantly, the protections do not apply to cultivation or sale of marijuana. It also does not prevent patients from being cited, it only prevents a conviction. For a closer look at what an affirmative defense is and how patients can get the protections it offers, click here.
September 8 also marks the official start date for agencies to begin writing and adopting rules for medical cannabis businesses. We are watching the process carefully to ensure the system is as workable as possible for patients.
The New Hampshire Senate voted 18-6 last week to pass HB 573 and send it back to the House. Unfortunately, after hearing a number of objections from Gov. Maggie Hassan, the Senate had little choice but to amend the bill in ways that will be bad for patients. The Senate removed home cultivation from the bill, gutted the affirmative defense provisions that would have immediately given patients a defense they could raise in court, and adopted other changes that are detailed here (some of which would actually render the bill unworkable if not corrected).
The bill will now return to the House, which we expect will disapprove of the Senate’s amendments. This means a “committee of conference” will be formed, in which a special committee of representatives and senators will work to agree on a final version of the bill that will move forward to the governor’s desk.
Last week, the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved Rep. Harold Dutton’s bill to keep marijuana users from being sent to jail for first-time simple possession of marijuana. Unfortunately, the bill – HB 184 – was amended first to apply only to people under the age of 21. The bill is now with the House Committee on Calendars. We want to be sure the committee places it on the calendar for a vote on the House floor.
In other news, the Committee on Public Health heard testimony from patients and medical professionals who support HB 594. This important bill would let patients who are arrested for marijuana possession raise a defense in court if their physicians recommend medical marijuana. It would also protect physicians who make such recommendations.
The testimony from supporters was profound and emotional. To see a video of this amazing hearing, click here. Consideration of HB 594 begins at about 1:51:20 into the recording.
The committee postponed its vote on whether to pass the bill to the House floor until Monday, May 6, which happens to be the last day it has to take action before the bill dies this session.
The two bills that passed are SB 422 and SB 350. The former requires charging certain minor offenses, including marijuana possession, by citation, meaning marijuana users can be arrested (though it’s not required) but won’t be spending the night or the weekend in jail. The latter reduces the maximum penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana from one year in jail to 90 days and the maximum fine from $1,000 to $500. Here again is the full summary.
It is unfortunate that Gov. O'Malley essentially put a stop to the original medical marijuana bill we were working toward this year, which would have protected patients and caregivers from arrest and established a system to ensure safe access. Still, this is certainly a step in the right direction, and it is only a matter of time before we pass a truly effective medical marijuana bill in Maryland.
The Maryland Legislature passed a bill this week that will help protect some patients from conviction if they can prove that their marijuana use was medical. The bill allows patients charged with possession to have their cases dismissed if they can show that they have a diagnosis of a debilitating medical condition from a doctor with whom they have an ongoing relationship. Lesser protections are also included that reduce the penalty in the case of non-debilitating conditions if patients can prove that their use was medical.
In addition, this bill would create a study panel of policy and health experts to look into the best ways to implement a comprehensive medical marijuana program in Maryland in the future.
While the overall bill is less than what we hoped for, it is definitely a step in the right direction. After all, anything that can help keep a patient out of jail is a good thing. The creation of the study panel bodes extremely well for all the medical marijuana patients in the state as well. It is certainly an indicator that lawmakers are willing to work with us on this issue, and are being responsive to the overwhelming support for such a program in Maryland.
The bill is now awaiting Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature, which he has already promised.