Md. lawmakers vote on whether to treat heroin addiction with pot

WASHINGTON — As members of Maryland’s General Assembly consider a variety of measures aimed at addressing the state’s deadly heroin epidemic, the House of Delegates was expected to vote Friday on a bill that includes an unconventional approach.

The measure would allow addicts to have access to medical marijuana to help cope with detoxing symptoms and possibly kick their addiction. It would alter the list of ailments that doctors use when considering whether a patient should receive medical pot by adding “opioid use disorder” as one of the accepted conditions.

“We need to support any and all paths to recovery,” said Lisa Lowe with Heroin Action Coalition of Maryland, an addiction treatment advocacy group.

The proposal was added as an amendment earlier this month after a committee hearing on a broader bill that is aimed at making changes to the state’s medical cannabis program.

“Medical cannabis can help to overcome this horrific epidemic,” said Dr. Debra Kimless, the medical director for ForwardGro, one of Maryland’s growers of medical cannabis.

Kimless told the House Health and Government Operations Committee that she has used medical marijuana to help wean numerous opioid addicts off the drugs they use.

Another man voiced his support, citing his late daughter’s struggles.

“Detoxing off of heroin was one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever witnessed in my life,” said Kevin Simmers, whose 19-year-old daughter died in 2015 from a heroin overdose.

The full House is scheduled to vote on the proposal Friday, although it has a long road ahead.

Critics argue there is not enough scientific evidence to support claims that marijuana helps with opioid addiction, and the state Senate would also need to agree to the plan.

This all comes after Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in response to Maryland’s continuing problems with heroin and opioid addiction.

“We must cut through the red tape so that we are empowering the important work being done in our many state agencies and at the local level all across our state,” Hogan said. “This is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

The Republican governor announced $50 million in new funding over five years to help support the state’s prevention, recovery and enforcement efforts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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