A measure to make Maryland's stalled medical marijuana law work would remove a cap on the number of growers in the state and include a study on how to best provide medical marijuana to veterans, under changes to a bill approved by a Senate panel on Tuesday.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee made substantial changes to a measure already passed the House of Delegates. The bill now heads to the full Senate.
One of the biggest changes removes a cap of 10 growers in the state to produce marijuana for people who have received a recommendation to receive it by a certified doctor. The Senate panel also set a two-year term for a license for growers, rather than a five-year term under the House bill.
"We do understand that there's investment that's being made by the businesses that are going into growing, but apparently there's no shortage of candidates and people expressing interest in it, and we think that a two-year license would more than justify the upfront investment they would have to make," Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said.
Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Queen Anne's, said he was concerned that removing the cap of 10 growers would put a lot of pressure on a state commission overseeing the program to determine how many licenses should be issued.
"I think it potentially leaves some room for fraud," Hershey, who voted against the bill, said. "You know, we could have a number of growers that can grow way too much product and maybe not have the medical treatment centers to buy that from them."
Another significant change to the bill would separate growers from treatment centers that would distribute the marijuana. There could be two treatment centers in a state legislative district, with the possibility for more at the discretion of the commission, if the district includes more than one county.
The measure approved by the Senate committee also would require a report on how best to provide medical marijuana to veterans in Maryland.
"We know a lot of veterans suffer from a number of conditions which are treatable by medical marijuana, and we wanted to become the first state in the country to specifically recognize that and address the needs of veterans under our program," Raskin said.
Maryland lawmakers are revisiting medical marijuana a year after they approved a framework to create a program in the state. The state's current law requires academic medical centers to make marijuana available to qualifying patients. However, none of the academic medical centers stepped forward. The proposed change to the law this year would enable licensed Maryland physicians who are certified by a state commission to recommend marijuana to patients with debilitating, chronic and severe diseases and conditions.