Candidates in the Maryland gubernatorial race are talking a lot about pot. It’s a hot issue across the country, at the forefront of voters’ minds and on the watch-list of advocates nationwide. CBS Baltimore exclaimed the race “could lead to Md. Decriminalizing marijuana” in their headline, and many are hoping decriminalization is only the beginning.
State lawmaker and candidate for governor, Heather Mizeur has signaled her support not only for decriminalization but for legalization of marijuana. But, she admits, other lawmakers are a long way from supporting an end to pot prohibition. In the meantime, she’s introduced a bill to decriminalize possession.
“We have an opportunity this legislative session to make sure we decriminalize personal possession for marijuana so if you have an ounce of marijuana, you have a $100 civil fine instead of criminal penalties,” said Mizeur.
Other candidates, including current Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler, agree that penalties should be reduced to a fine. Current polling shows Brown as the candidate in the lead.
“On the decriminalization of marijuana, I think we should. I think we should decriminalize it. I think that it has a disproportionate impact in enforcement of our marijuana laws on young African-Americans,” said Brown.
“Clearly decriminalization is somewhere we should go but in terms of actually legalizing drugs, I’m not there yet,” added Gansler.
Decriminalization is seen, in many cases, as a small step towards eventual legalization. But the state will likely have to wait for that to happen, at least until a new governor is in office and likely a different legislative environment as well. Governor O’Malley doesn’t seem to support either decriminalization or legalization.
The latest poll in Maryland reflects voters back decriminalization overwhelmingly. According to the Washington Post, more than eight in 10 support fines instead of criminal charges for possession of marijuana. The poll, taken at the close of 2013, showed lower support for all-out legalization, with only 51% supporting an end to prohibition.
The culture surrounding marijuana has been built over a period of decades, with the government villifying it at every turn. We can’t expect an end to prohibition to come overnight, but by small steps and continued advocacy. Until that time, possession of marijuana remains a criminal offense with very serious penalties.