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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Creating and selling edibles, allowing inmates to receive medical cannabis treatment, and prohibiting employers from asking about marijuana use could become law in Maryland under bills being pushed in this session's General Assembly.

The state Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee is expected to hear 18 bills regarding medical cannabis and marijuana use on Feb. 26, 2019.

While medical cannabis is legal at the state level for patients given approval by the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC), which develops policies and regulations and qualifies patients to receive marijuana as treatment, recreational use is not yet legalized.

Committee Chair and Democratic state Sen. Bobby Zirkin is the lead sponsor on 11 of the 18 bills and said that the objective of pushing so many pieces of legislation is to normalize marijuana as medication, though cannabis is treated as an illicit drug under federal law.

Over his years serving in the Maryland legislature, Zirkin said he's seen medical cannabis help people and wants to take away as many roadblocks to it as he can.

SB 857, sponsored by Zirkin, would allow certain dispensaries to acquire, possess and sell edibles to qualifying patients, along with allowing certain processors to distribute and sell to specified dispensaries.

However, the development of food products containing cannabis is very different than dealing with flower or processed cannabis products, since all food produced or sold in the state is regulated by the Maryland Office of Food Safety, said Joy Strand, executive director of the MMCC.

“We're very excited to be able to bring an edibles program to Maryland, but our top focus on any of the products we're doing or regulating is that they're high-quality and safe for patients as a medicinal product,” Strand said in a briefing to lawmakers on Jan. 17, 2019.

The Senate bill was cross-filed with HB 17, sponsored by Democratic Delegate Cheryl Glenn, whose mother is the eponym of the commission, is a leading sponsor of medical marijuana legislation. A hearing for that bill was canceled and has not yet been rescheduled.

Right to Bear Arms

In addition, Zirkin and Republican state Sen. Michael Hough are working to advance SB 97, which would prevent a gun owner from being denied the right to purchase, possess, or carry a firearm solely based on their authorized status as a medical cannabis patient.

Current federal laws bar medical cannabis patients from purchasing or possessing firearms under the Federal Gun Control Act. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug and is illegal on the federal level.

Maryland State Police can ask individuals looking to purchase a gun about their status as medical cannabis patients and can bar patients from completing the transaction, according to the MMCC.

Marijuana for inmates

Zirkin also is sponsoring SB 855, which would allow certain qualified inmates to receive medical cannabis as treatment in state and local correctional facilities.

While inmates are eligible for medical care and treatment while incarcerated, medications prescribed to them prior to being placed in detention are not always given to them once locked up.

However, Republican state Sen. Andrew Serafini is presenting an opposing bill — SB 86 — which would bar possession of marijuana or cannabis on the grounds of a local or state correctional facility, or while a criminal offender is in a home detention program.

Serafini's bill clarifies current legislation by stating that civil and criminal penalties can be imposed if an individual violates the law and possesses or uses marijuana or cannabis in any correctional setting.

Employment and Advertising

Another bill from Zirkin is SB 863, which would prohibit certain employers from requiring employees or applicants to disclose their use of marijuana and cannabis.

However, the bill doesn't prohibit employers from making inquiries or taking other actions otherwise mandated to them by local, state or federal laws, or if applicants or employees were using, possessing, or under the influence of marijuana at their place of employment.

While medical cannabis is legal for qualified patients and many individuals are aware of its availability, the MMCC is prohibited from publishing ads for medical cannabis or associated products on radio, television or billboards.

SB 859, also sponsored by Zirkin, aims to change advertising laws for medical cannabis to be consistent with federal regulations on prescription drug advertising.

The bill will prohibit such advertising from being false or misleading and will be required to state that the product being advertised is only for use by qualifying patients.

“If this helps them, why would we hide it from them?” Zirkin asked during a legislative briefing on medical cannabis on Jan. 17, 2019.

Zirkin's other bills to be heard in the Judicial Proceedings Committee include:

  • SB 854, which says that a covered employee or dependent isn't entitled to workers' compensation or associated benefits if certain accidental personal injury or disease was caused solely by medical cannabis, and includes medical cannabis under the medicines that an employer or insurer must provide to a covered employee in certain situations.
  • SB 858, which would allow higher education institutions to purchase medical cannabis for research projects.
  • SB 860, which prohibits certain individuals from being subject to revocation of mandatory supervision, parole or probation for the use or possession of medical cannabis.
  • SB 861, which repeals several registration requirements for certifying providers and applications for them with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
  • SB 862, which prohibits a landlord from denying patients or caregivers a lease solely based on the possession of medical cannabis.
  • SB 864, which prohibits a party from rescinding a contract with a qualified patient or caregiver based on their medical cannabis status and prohibits discrimination by an employer against a qualified patient or caregiver.

Other bills scheduled to be heard in the Judicial Proceedings Committee include:

  • SB 383, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, would authorize law enforcement to obtain medical cannabis at no cost for use during training, and requiring that all products containing medical cannabis include a warning against operating a car or other machinery under the influence.
  • SB 418, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Robert Cassilly, would prohibit drivers and occupants of motor vehicles from smoking or consuming marijuana in the passenger areas of a vehicle on highways.
  • SB 426, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Chris West, would require the MMCC to allow an individual to have an ownership interest in up to six licensed dispensaries.
  • SB 552, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Susan Lee, would prohibit former employees and MMCC commissioners from being an owner, employee, or otherwise related to businesses with licenses given under the approval of the commission.
  • SB 749, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Clarence Lam, would require dispensaries and agents to label medical cannabis and associated products if they were grown using pesticides, along with requiring the Department of Agriculture to study health impacts of smokable flower that was grown using pesticides.
  • SB 771, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. William Smith, would substitute the word "cannabis" for "marijuana" in certain parts of the law, along with altering punishable quantities and establishing age limits and civil offenses involving the use and possession of cannabis.

-- Natalie Jones