Death Penalty Repealed, Medicinal Marijuana Legalized

BERLIN — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed into law over 200 pieces of legislation approved during the 2013 General Assembly session including a handful of weighty social issues and a couple of local importance.

Among the first batch of bills officially enacted with O’Malley’s signature on Thursday was the repeal of the state’s death penalty, which had been a fiercely debated and divided issue during the 2013 session. At the bill signing ceremony on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown praised the passage of the death penalty repeal.

“We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to hold violent criminals accountable, but the facts prove that the death penalty is racially biased, demonstrably unreliable and an ineffective deterrent to crime,” he said.

On Thursday, O’Malley also signed Grace’s Law, a measure to prevent cyber-bullying, and the Maryland Health Progress Act of 2013, which will alter the way healthcare is provided and insurance is acquired in the state. The law enables the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to become fully operational in January of next year and expands Medicaid eligibility to more Marylanders. The administration touts its ability to expand health care coverage to over 375,000 previous uninsured in the state with the goal of reaching 400,000 by the end of 2013.

“For decades, Maryland has been ahead of the curve in expanding healthcare coverage in a fair and equitable way,” said House Speaker Michael Busch on Thursday. “With today’s signing of the Health Progres Act legislation, Marylanders take another step forward in ensuring affordable, quality healthcare access for everyone in our community.”

Another bill signed into law on Thursday was the state’s medical marijuana legislation. The bill creates a commission through which academic medical research centers can apply to operate state-regulated programs that provide patients with marijuana grown by the federal government or state-licensed growers. Program applications will be required to specify qualifying medical conditions for treatment, duration and dosage along with where marijuana would be grown.

“I’m pleased to hear the governor has decided to sign this bill in addition to the affirmative defense for caregivers he already signed and I’m very happy for seriously ill people in Maryland who are now a big step closer to being able to obtain medicine in an appropriate medical setting rather than having to resort to an illicit market,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, a physician and the bill’s sponsor. “I’ve long said Maryland should replace the dealer-patient relationship with a doctor-patient relationship.”

The Maryland Marijuana Policy Project praised the governor’s signing of the medical marijuana law.

“Support for medical marijuana laws and broader reforms will continue to grow as more and more people come to recognize that marijuana is not just less harmful that most prescription drugs, but also alcohol,” said Deputy Director of Government Relations Dan Riffle.

Closer to home, O’Malley signed legislation that will create a task force to study the issue of moving the state’s start date for public schools in Maryland back until after Labor Day.