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Bill would extend medical cannabis protections to Maryland vets with PTSD

Medical marijuana.

ANTHONY SOUFFLE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE/MCT

By DANIELLE E. GAINES | The Frederick News-Post, Md. | Published: March 12, 2016

ANNAPOLIS (Tribune News Service) — Molly Dillon described the dilemma her boyfriend faced when he was receiving prescription medical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jason Anderson, a 20-year Army veteran from Boonsboro, would take more than a dozen pills each day, Dillon told a House panel on Friday. He became zombie-like, and when he wanted to stop taking the drugs and return to normal, he would experience withdrawal symptoms.

“It seemed as if he was being used as a guinea pig for medications,” Dillon said.

Now, Anderson uses cannabis to calm his emotions and feel a sense of normalcy, he said.

The couple traveled to Annapolis on Friday to support a bill by Delegate David E. Vogt III, R-District 4, which would specifically extend the state's affirmative defense against prosecution for marijuana possession to veterans suffering from PTSD.

His bill also seeks protections for veterans receiving simultaneous treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but state lawmakers would likely not support a bill that places a restriction on the federal government, committee members said.

The bill also includes other expanded provisions relating to veteran patients, but Health and Government Operations Committee members, including champions of medical marijuana, said those proposals overlap with existing law.

Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, has supported medical cannabis legislation since 2003. Morhaim, a medical doctor, said he could support a trimmed-down version of Vogt's bill and pointed to growing scientific studies that medical cannabis can help treat anyone who suffers from post-traumatic stress.

Vogt, a Marine veteran, said he sought out special protections for military members because so many veterans commit suicide — about 8,000 a year.

Maryland has passed several bills over the last decade addressing therapeutic cannabis use, including the affirmative defense law, which allows patients or caregivers to avoid criminal fines and penalties for marijuana possession if they can establish proof of medical need. The state also moved to decriminalize possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana and established a medical marijuana commission, which will oversee growing operations and dispensaries in the state. Patients likely won't be able to access cannabis through the commission for at least another year.

After Friday's hearing, Vogt said his bill needs tweaking to pass the House committee.

An identical bill cross-filed in the Senate was voted down by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Vogt believes if the bill is able to move through the House committee and goes back before the Senate panel, he can address their questions.

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©2016 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

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