Maryland's recent medical-marijuana law is the latest of several recent drug policy reforms that have made the state one of the leaders in relaxing laws on illicit drugs, reads a report released this week that lists state-by-state changes to drug laws.

The Drug Policy Alliance (search), which issued this first-of-its-kind  report, praised 12 states, all of which passed at least three reform measures since 1996.

"We see a tremendous movement across the nation," said Ethan Nadelmann, director of the group. He said the bipartisan movement toward reform was "unthinkable a few years ago."

As far as Maryland, it has voted to restore voting rights to felons who complete sentences for a first-time drug offense, to ban racial profiling and to allow research into industrial uses for hemp. The state has also opted out of a federal welfare ban for former drug offenders.

Among some of the changes in other states, Connecticut has permitted drug users to possess 30 syringes, Colorado legalized medical marijuana and Texas limited convictions based solely on the testimony of informants.

The Drug Policy Alliance supports alternative ways of regulating drug policies, and blames the federal government for failed policies to combat the war on drugs.

But federal officials do not agree that that movement is headed in the right direction.

Tom Riley, public affairs director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (search), said that the federal government spends millions of dollars every year studying drugs, and has found no scientific evidence to support health benefits of "smoked marijuana."

"We have an obligation to follow science, not mythology," Riley said. "They're using sick people to advance their own agendas."

Maryland became one of only eight states, and one of only two on the East Coast, that support medical marijuana (search after Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed a bill last spring that protects patients with serious illnesses -- like cancer or AIDS -- from possession charges if they are caught using the drug for medical purposes.

Although the bill does not fully legalize medical marijuana, it is the first time a Republican governor has signed a bill allowing some leeway in the way the drug is regulated.

"Medical marijuana has come a long way politically," said Donald Murphy, a former Republican delegate from Baltimore County, the driving force behind the bill in Annapolis.

Murphy noted that support for medical marijuana is on the rise and is no longer solely a Democratic issue.

"It's very encouraging, and I see a bright future for drug policies, because it's clearly going to be very bipartisan," Murphy said.