Maryland will become the 19th state to approve medical marijuana. Governor Martin O’Malley will sign the legislation at a ceremony Thursday.

The medical pot bill establishes “academic medical research centers” that will act as dispensaries for qualified patients. However, it is unclear when the program will be fully operational. Some have projected that Maryland will not implement the program until 2016.

The bill requires all participating medical research centers to specify the ailments they would treat as well as the criteria that would qualify a patient for medical marijuana. Additionally, medical centers must turn over all data on patients and caregivers to both the health department and law enforcement, which has raised serious concerns amongst medical cannabis advocates.

Nonetheless, the measure is a victory for medical pot as Governor O’Malley previously opposed such a program based on his concern that state employees implementing the program could face federal prosecution – the same excuse Governor Jan Brewer used to delay Arizona’s medical pot program.

In fact, O’Malley only decided to support the marijuana measure after it was amended to allow him to suspend the pot program if it is later determined that state employees could face prosecution from the feds.

Currently 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and two states, Washington and Colorado, have legalized recreational pot.

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