Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Editorial

Pot as medicine [Editorial]

A state commission meeting this week to draft rules governing access to medical marijuana by patients and physicians has left advocates for the drug's therapeutic use wondering whether it will ever become available to those who need it. The commissioners need to balance the scientific and medical issues raised by medical marijuana against the legal constraints imposed by state and federal statutes. But in trying to walk a fine line between the two, the panel appears to have crafted rules that in some instances are so restrictive that many patients with illnesses that could be treated with the drug may never be able to get it.

That would defeat the whole purpose of Maryland's medical marijuana law, which has already been delayed once since its passage in 2013. In trying to avoid every conceivable abuse that might occur under the program before it even starts the state runs the risk of hedging its bet with so many legal hurdles that for all practical purposes the law may as well not exist.

Some of the requirements and restrictions aired by the commission this week would potentially disqualify thousands of patients whose doctors otherwise might have no problem recommending them for marijuana therapy. For example, the rules would disqualify all patients with a history of substance abuse, no matter how long ago it occurred. Under that restriction, a 65-year-old cancer patient who was arrested for having a joint in his pocket when he was a teenager couldn't get medical marijuana to alleviate the nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy treatments. Where's the sense in that if the point of the legislation is to ease such suffering?

Another rule would disqualify anyone convicted of a misdemeanor in the previous five years, including nonviolent crimes and traffic violations. But what do such petty offenses have to do with determining whether a doctor can recommend medical marijuana to relieve the symptoms of AIDS patients or the neurological and muscular disorders suffered by people with multiple sclerosis or epilepsy? The restriction seems unnecessarily punitive in a way that suggests its only real purpose is to prevent as many people as possible from benefiting from the drug even in cases where they clearly could be helped by it.

Other rules seem deliberately designed to erect obstacles in the way of people gaining access to medical marijuana even after a doctor has recommended it. One proposed restriction, for example, would require medical marijuana growers to keep at least two employees on site 24 hours a day seven days a week. Presumably that requirement is aimed at protecting the crops from poachers who might steal onto unattended properties and help themselves to the plants while no one is watching. But a gated fence or other locked enclosure would do the job just as well. That's what we do to protect the wares of gun stores, pharmacies or other businesses with regulated inventory that shut down overnight.

Similarly, another rule would forbid a marijuana dispensary or growing operation from being located within 500 feet of a school, day care center, church or playground. That would effectively ban access to medical marijuana in densely populated urban areas like Baltimore, where the needs are greatest, and limit such businesses to suburban and rural areas of the state that are difficult or impossible to reach for people without cars. It's another example of the state seemingly going out of its way to prevent people from benefiting from the medical marijuana law even if they qualify for the therapy.

Maryland has a legitimate interest in making sure the state's medical marijuana program isn't misused by people who simply want to exploit it for recreational purposes, something that has happened in some other states that have legalized the drug for medical use. And the commission is right to steer clear of policies that could expose patients and their physicians to possible legal jeopardy under federal laws that still classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance along with drugs like heroin and LSD.

But advocates of the therapy are right to be concerned that Maryland doesn't overcompensate by creating a medical marijuana program so laden with restrictions and obstacles to access that it fails to help the very people it was intended to benefit. A legal medical marijuana program is supported by an overwhelming majority of Maryland voters and the state has got to find a middle ground that enables those patients who have a legitimate need to use it while minimizing its potential for abuse.


To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Doctors need marijuana training [Letter]
    Doctors need marijuana training [Letter]

    I would like to share my organization's thoughts with regard to recent discussions about medical marijuana in Maryland and the question of whether physicians should receive additional training ("Medical pot rules raise concern," July 26).

  • Colorado's budding marijuana tourism

    Crested Butte, Colorado's wildflower capital, nestles in the Elk Mountain Range of west-central Colorado, where lupine, aster, mule's ear and a host of other dazzlers dot the fields. But currently the hottest tourist attraction is weed.

  • Proposed medical marijuana rules under fire
    Proposed medical marijuana rules under fire

    Advocates say burdensome, vague regulations would forbid pot dispensary in Baltimore

  • Mr. Obama's 529 brouhaha
    Mr. Obama's 529 brouhaha

    Rarely does a president flip-flop on an initiative presented in the State of the Union address as quickly as Barack Obama did this week. He reversed himself on 529 college savings plans on Tuesday, which was just seven days after his speech to the nation. Such a political miscalculation is...

  • Defeating Boko Haram
    Defeating Boko Haram

    The bloody attacks in Paris this month that left 20 people dead, including the three attackers, riveted the world's attention on the growing threat Islamist extremist groups pose to the democracies of Western Europe. Yet even as the French people were mourning their loss, an even more...

  • Under Armour police uniforms [Poll]
    Under Armour police uniforms [Poll]
  • Realizing a 'Greater' Baltimore
    Realizing a 'Greater' Baltimore

    Though people may describe the region around Baltimore City as "Greater Baltimore," area leaders — from government, business, non-profits and academia — could do more to fully embrace that term and develop the potential it implies. Doing so is a critical component for the...

  • Medicare 'quality indicators' diverge from quality care
    Medicare 'quality indicators' diverge from quality care

    Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced this week that, through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare would be taking drastic steps to assure that doctors are paid not for visits and procedures, but rather for the value of their work. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid...

Comments
Loading