Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich last week signed a bill that will decrease penalties for seriously ill people who use marijuana for medical treatment, The Washington Post reports. The measure allows people charged with marijuana use or possession to use medicinal need as a defense and lowers the penalty for use of the drug to a fine of no more than $100. The current maximum penalty for marijuana use without medical need is a fine of no more than $1,000 and up to one year in jail. Lawmakers opted for the reduced-fine measure instead of outright permitting marijuana use by people with serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer because there was too much opposition from conservative officials. The new law takes effect October 1.
Ehrlich signed the measure despite heavy pressure from the Bush administration, which opposes medical marijuana laws. John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, reportedly telephoned Ehrlich several times to urge him to reject the measure. Other states with medical marijuana laws include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.