Maryland Senate passes pot decriminalization bill; Legalization bill killed
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — There aren’t enough votes to get bills to legalize recreational use of marijuana out of a Senate or House committee this session, so advocates are now pinning their hopes on legislation that would turn pot possession into a civil offense.
Scores of people from all over the state attended a marijuana rally Thursday supporting everything from making it legal, decriminalizing it to expanding medical marijuana.
“Despite comparable rates of use, African-Americans are overwhelmingly arrested for marijuana possession. That is not fair, that is not right, and it needs to end,” said Sara Love, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union.
But it’s the decriminalization bill that’s making progress. The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana by a vote of 36-8. It’s an amended version designed to make it more acceptable to the delegates in the House, where it will now head.
“Drug dealers have children peddle marijuana on the street corners and in our schools. That needs to stop. The only way to make that stop is to end the prohibition of marijuana. Regulate it,” said retired Major Neil Franklin, who is with the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
The legislation slaps a $100 civil fine rather than handcuffs on those caught with 10 grams or less of pot. The money goes to the Department of Health to beef up treatment programs. Those under 18 are hauled into court.
“Children will have no more access to marijuana than they already do,” said Chris Irvin, with the Committee for Concerned Citizens in Baltimore City.
Under the Senate version of the bill, third-time-offending adults have to see a judge who may send the individual to a treatment program.
Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur, who is running for governor, also has a decriminalization bill without any of those amendments.
“All progress is important to be made, and I would be willing to entertain amendments to put the House bill into whatever posture it needs to get out this session,” Mizeur said.
There is a less publicized pot bill that is generating interest, I-Team reporter David Collins said. It creates a marijuana diversion programs in all jurisdictions. Baltimore City and several counties already have one. If a defendant successfully completes a treatment program, the arrest is erased.
“The reality is you’ve got to get the first-time offender. That’s where you make the difference,” substance abuse counselor Mike Gimbel said.