ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland Senate panel Tuesday voted favorably on a medical marijuana bill after removing a cap on the number of licensed growers and opening the treatment to minors.
The legislation, which would enable certain physicians to recommend marijuana treatments, is now headed to the Senate floor for a vote. As amended by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, the bill would give minors with caregivers access to the drug, a provision significant to Maryland parents who believe marijuana could provide relief to their children.
Shannon Moore, a Frederick mother who has advocated for a medical marijuana proposal, said she thinks the Senate proposal stands a good chance of success.
“I don’t foresee anything standing in its way, and that’s a really good thing because it means we’re that much closer for people who need this medicine,” Moore said.
Moore’s twin sons suffer from a condition that causes life-threatening seizures. Outside Maryland, oil containing marijuana extract has helped control epilepsy in some children.
The House of Delegates last week approved a different medical marijuana bill. The Senate version contains several significant differences, such as separating licensed marijuana growers from distribution centers. With the House bill, the growers would also be in charge of dispensing the substance.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, who sponsored the Senate bill, said measures to separate components of the medical marijuana program would help prevent conflicts of interest.
“We want to keep the interests of the patients and their families at the center of what we’re doing,” said Raskin, D-Montgomery.
Under his proposal, physicians approved by the state medical marijuana commission would be able to recommend the treatment for qualifying patients.
The Senate bill would also permit the state commission to determine the number of licensed growers; the House version includes a 10-grower cap. The legislation would also allow two treatment centers in each legislative district and authorize the commission to approve additional facilities to ensure at least one in each county.
Sen. Stephen Hershey Jr. expressed concern that the bill language was too relaxed and could result in an oversupply of marijuana.
“Do we open this up as a free market for an illegal substance?” said Hershey, R-Queen Anne’s. “I think it potentially leaves some room for fraud. We could have a number of growers that could grow way too much product and maybe not have the medical treatment centers to buy that from them.”
Sen. Robert Zirkin, R-Baltimore County, argued that giving rein to the free market would drive down medical marijuana prices and make the treatment affordable for more families.
Hershey was the only committee member to vote against the bill, with the other 10 supporting it.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.