Maryland House of Delegates Approves Amended Marijuana Decriminalization Bill
SB 364 would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense; more than two-thirds of Maryland voters support stronger decriminalization legislation, and more than half of state voters support removing all penalties for adult marijuana possession
Statement below from the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland
ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill Saturday 78-55 that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure will now return to the Senate, which overwhelmingly approved a stronger version in March, for either concurrence or a committee of conference. The Maryland Policy Coalition of Maryland urges Governor Martin O’Malley to sign this commonsense legislation if it is approved by the Senate.
The version of Senate Bill 364 approved by the House would make possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Individuals under 21 years of age would be required to get a clinical assessment and education.
The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), would have imposed a fine of up to $100 for first and subsequent offenses for adults 18 and older. Individuals under 18 years of age would have been treated similarly to minors found to be in possession of alcohol, which typically results in a referral to community service or an educational course.
On April 2, the House Judiciary Committee amended SB 364 so that it would only establish a task force to study decriminalization. On Friday, a group of delegates led by Del. Keiffer Mitchell (D-Baltimore City) and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland announced a floor amendment that would restore the bill to its Senate form. In response, the House Judiciary Committee revised the bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.
More than two-thirds of Maryland voters (68%) support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana (about 28.5 grams) and replacing them with a civil fine of up to $100, according to a September survey conducted by Public Policy Polling. It also found 53% of Maryland voters support making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and regulating it similarly to alcohol. The poll is available at www.mpp.org/MDpoll.
Fifteen other states have decriminalized marijuana possession, and two states — Washington and Colorado — have enacted laws making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol. On March 31, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that replaces criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana with a $25 civil fine.
The following is a statement from the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland:
“Support for comprehensive marijuana policy reform is growing stronger in Maryland. Legislative leaders and activists are not giving up, and we will continue to work together to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition behind us.
“The bill approved by the House will prevent tens of thousands of Marylanders from receiving criminal records simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
“This is a step forward, but the General Assembly still needs to catch up with those who elected them. Most Maryland voters do not think adults should be punished simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. It’s time to eliminate the underground market for marijuana and replace it with a system in which it is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.”