Update: Decriminalization passes! It officially goes into effect on 10/1/14
There is real legislative momentum in Maryland for marijuana laws reform these days. While the state of Maryland may not legalize marijuana this year, they could join the District of Columbia in decriminalizing pot.
According to WBAL TV 11, the bill hoping to reduce penalties for possession of marijuana to only a civil fine has a good chance of being passed and becoming law, putting Maryland with other states who are reducing penalties and creating a system that could one day lead to all-out legalization.
The legalization bill proposed earlier this session simply won’t have enough votes to make it out of committee this year. But decriminalization is a less controversial idea and one that lawmakers are warming up to.
The decriminalization bill would order a $100 fine for people caught in possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana, with no jail time. It would be similar to a traffic ticket.
Though the bill is a step in the right direction, it’s far less liberal than the decriminalization bill recently passed in D.C., where anything under one ounce garners a fine of $25. Still, in this era where marijuana laws are falling like dominoes, any positive change can be seen as just a step towards eventual legalization.
“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, from the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Medical marijuana also took a big step forward, with a house vote of 127-9 to support a bill to help patients get access to cannabis treatments.
Ideally, advocates would like marijuana legalized across the board, ending the practice of jailing people for imbibing in a harmless plant, one that the majority of Americans think should be allowable. Legalization would also end the racially disparate practices of marijuana enforcement.
“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, of the ACLU.
As for voters, those people who put the state lawmakers who are voting on the issues in office, a new poll reveals that most in Maryland believe recreational pot shouldn’t be restricted any more than alcohol.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), 57 percent of those in Maryland believe regulations should put marijuana at the same level as booze. Only 25 percent surveyed believe penalties for marijuana offenses should be greater than those for alcohol. Half think the recreational use of marijuana should be made legal in the state.
Decriminalization stands a good shot before lawmakers this session, and though it isn’t the ideal legalization bill, it would still serve to lessen penalties for those accused of pot possession.
But there is no question that reform is in the air, and widely accepted. And the trend toward greater reform and future full legalization may be inevitable. There is even a serious Democratic Candidate for Governor, Heather Mizeur, campaigning on a platform that includes legalization of marijuana. While she may not be the favorite in the race, the trend of more openness and acceptance of this issue is undeniable.
And with all the activity across the nation, it is unacceptable for a major candidate to not have a serious position on marijuana and criminal justice reform.