Marylanders with serious medical conditions that could be alleviated by marijuana would gain access to the drug with a physician's consent under legislation passed by the General Assembly Monday.
The House and Senate approved a compromise between their differing versions of the bill just hours before the end of the 2014 General Assembly session Their action sends the measure to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is expected to sign the bill.
The legislation supersedes a medical marijuana bill passed that year that set up a system that never got off the ground. That law required that the marijuana program being operated by academic medical centers -- none of which agreed to participate.
The legislation approved Monday who allow patients who might be helped by the drug to purchase marijuana on the recommendation of a specially licensed physician. The patients would receive a state-issued identification card, entitling them to buy the drug from state-sanctioned dispensaries.
The two chambers had disagreed about how to set up a network for growing and distribution the drug, with the House favoring few outlets and the Senate wanting more to foster competition. Under the compromise, 15 growers would be granted licenses in the first year, but the state's medical marijuana commission could allow more. Growers would be allowed to distribute the drug through dispensaries, but other businesses could receive licenses to operate dispensaries as well.
Lawmakers heard testimony that marijuana and its derivatives has been shown to be effective in alleviating a range of medical conditions from the side-effect of chemotherapy to fibromyalgia to epilepsy.