Maryland residents who can prove they have a doctor's approval to use marijuana for medical reasons would have a new defense to avoid a $100 fine and a misdemeanor conviction under a measure approved 41-6 by the Maryland Senate on Thursday.
Under current law, a person who uses marijuana for medical reasons can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $100 in Maryland.
"What we've done is we're going to say we're going to give you a complete defense, an affirmative defense, where you have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that you were using it for medicinal purposes,'' said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery.
The Senate bill was changed this month, after legislation that would have created a state-run production and distribution system for medical marijuana stalled in the House of Delegates.
Caren Woodson, a spokeswoman for the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, said Americans for Safe Access backed the bill as a step forward.
"It's not ideal, but the bill will help patients avoid what is now a guaranteed conviction if arrested," Woodson said in a statement.
Last month, Maryland's health secretary opposed the earlier version of the measure, because he said the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene lacked the resources to oversee a system to dispense medical marijuana. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said he supported a study this year to identify a more feasible option later.
The amended Senate bill would create a workgroup within the department to study a Maryland model for medical marijuana use for people suffering from serious illnesses.
The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.