The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill that would make medical marijuana legally available through academic medical research centers in a 108-28 vote. The bill would allow marijuana to be distributed through academic research centers by doctors and nurses. Similar measures have failed in previous years, but this year Gov. Martin O’Malley dropped his opposition and backed the proposal.

omalleys-marchThe O’Malley administration supports medical marijuana legislation, according to Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein, but reserves the right to suspend the program if federal charges are filed against state employees who participate in the distribution of the drug.

Currently, 18 other states and the District of Columbia allows for the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The bill’s sponsor, Del. Dan Morhaim, a physician and a Baltimore Democrat, has described Maryland’s potential program as the tightest and most controlled of any in the country.

It may take several years for a program to get up and running, and federal policy presents a substantial obstacle to a law like this one ever being fully implemented,” said Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “Still, this bill gives us hope that patients could have safe, reliable access through programs that bear the imprimatur of some of the country’s most respected medical institutions.”

The bill’s passage in the House comes a week after the Senate approved a separate measure that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot. The House has not yet voted on the decriminalization bill.

A third marijuana bill that would outright legalize the drug, regulate it and tax it like alcohol has not yet received a vote in committee. Two weeks remain in the General Assembly’s 90-day legislative session.

People who use medical marijuana to treat illnesses like cancer and multiple sclerosis shouldn’t have to resort to the illicit market to obtain doctor-recommended medicine,” Dan Riffle