Maryland Senate passes bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana
The Maryland Senate on Friday approved a bill that woulddecriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates, where similar legislation died in committee last year.
The Senate bill, which passed 36 to 8, would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana and impose a civil fine of $100. Violators would receive citations similar to traffic tickets; they could either pay the fine in full or request a trial date in District Court.
Under current Maryland law, a person in possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is subject to a felony conviction, up to 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Existing criminal penalties would still apply to possession of larger amounts of marijuana.
“If it passes the House this year, it will be a big step forward,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said.
Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Mongtomery), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, said the “only challenge” is getting the bill approved by the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation. She said she is hopeful the Senate passage will provide “a boost of momentum” in her chamber.
If the bill makes it out of committee, “we have broad, bipartisan support to get this done” by the full House, said Mizeur, who is running for governor this year.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard), includes provisions designed to discourage drug abuse among minors, which were not part of the bill approved by the Senate in 2013.
Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) amended the bill so that a judge would have the discretion to order a third-time offender to attend drug treatment or education programs. Another amendment by Shank directs revenue from the citations to the state Health and Mental Hygiene Department to combat drug abuse.
Zirkin said removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana would allow law enforcement to focus its resources on more serious offenses, and would be a first step toward diminishing the racial disparity in the way penalties have been applied.
It would decrease the number of people whose criminal records for marijuana possession have hindered their ability to find work or attend college, he said.
Separate bills are pending in the General Assembly that would legalize marijuana, taxing and regulating it as Colorado and the state of Washington began doing this year.
But Miller told reporters that the legalization bill would not pass the Senate.
The District of Columbia has also been reconsidering prohibitions against marijuana use.