Medical marijuana bill passes House

Legislation to legalize medical marijuana passed the House of Delegates Monday, sending the measure to the Senate.

The bill would allow marijuana to be distributed through academic research centers by doctors and nurses. Similar measures have failed in previous years, but this year Gov. Martin O'Malley dropped his opposition and backed the proposal.

Currently, 18 other states and the District of Columbia allows for the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The bill's sponsor, Del. Dan Morhaim, a physician and a Baltimore Democrat, has described Maryland's potential program as the tightest and most controlled of any in the country.

The bill's passage in the House comes a week after the Senate approved a separate measure that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot. The House has not yet voted on the decriminalization bill.

A third marijuana bill that would outright legalize the drug, regulate it and tax it like alcohol has not yet received a vote in committee. Two weeks remain in the General Assembly's 90-day legislative session.

Within minutes of the House's 108-28 vote to approve medical marijuana, advocates celebrated and predicted passage in the Senate.

"People who use medical marijuana to treat illnesses like cancer and multiple sclerosis shouldn't have to resort to the illicit market to obtain doctor-recommended medicine," Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "States around the nation are successfully implementing programs that provide patients with safe, legal, and reliable access to medical marijuana."

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