ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Gov. Martin O'Malley will sign legislation to make Maryland the 19th state to approve a medical marijuana program, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday, but it remains unclear when the program will be up and running.
Raquel Guillory, O'Malley's spokeswoman, confirmed the governor will sign the measure at a Thursday ceremony, along with dozens of other bills that include a repeal of the death penalty.
The medical marijuana bill allows academic medical research centers to establish programs to dispense marijuana to sick patients. While state analysts have projected a program would not be up and running until 2016, supporters say they are hopeful some research centers will move faster now that they have seen how it would work.
"I've long said Maryland should replace the dealer-patient relationship with the doctor-patient relationship," said Delegate Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who is an emergency room physician. "This law gives us a chance to do that."
Morhaim said Sinai Hospital in Baltimore has expressed interest in the program.
Some medical marijuana advocates, though, say the bill doesn't go far enough to get marijuana to sick people.
A participating medical center will be required to specify the medical conditions it would treat and the criteria by which patients would be allowed to participate. A medical center also will have to provide the state health department data on patients and caregivers on a daily basis. The department will be required to make the data available to law enforcement.
O'Malley, a Democrat, has opposed the idea in the past. Last year, his health secretary said he did not support the measure out of concern of federal prosecution of state employees who would administer the program. This year, however, the measure was changed to give the governor the authority to suspend the program if it is determined state employees could be prosecuted for their involvement.
O'Malley signed a separate bill last month removing criminal penalties for acquiring marijuana on behalf of a seriously ill family member.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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