Back in 2014, Maryland lawmakers decriminalized the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana. Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions, people in possession of less than that amount are still being criminalized. Increasingly, some prosecutors are charging individuals with “possession with intent to distribute” — a felony — based on very limited evidence, like having their marijuana in more than one baggie (which could easily be because they purchased it that way or had a few different strains, rather than because they were selling it).
In order to address this overcharging, Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, introduced SB 128, which MPP supported. The bill just passed the Senate 45-1. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.
SB 128 would simply create a legal presumption that people who have less than 10 grams should not be charged with possession with intent to distribute. Prosecutors could still make the case if there’s evidence of an intent to sell.
Even being arrested for a felony can have serious collateral consequences. For example, some jobs will suspend or fire employees immediately due to a felony arrest. Lawmakers intended to reduce the number of people caught up in the criminal justice system for having small amounts of marijuana — ask them to help fulfill that goal by passing this bill.
Maryland’s legislative session began earlier this month, and there are several cannabis policy issues already on the agenda. MPP and our allies in the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition are supporting an effort to let the people of Maryland decide whether the state should tax and regulate cannabis for adults.
Unlike many other states, Maryland citizens can’t collect signatures to put an issue on the ballot. In order for the people to vote on an issue, lawmakers must pass a bill that puts a constitutional amendment on the ballot. We hope that Maryland lawmakers will allow voters to put an end to the ineffective, costly, and unfair policy of cannabis prohibition and replace it with a system that allows adults to lawfully consume a substance that is safer than alcohol.
In other news, the legislative black caucus introduced a bill that would license additional businesses that could go to women and minority-owned businesses in light of a disparity study that found these groups were at a disadvantage in the licensing processes. And Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has introduced bills that would expand Maryland’s decriminalization law, SB 127 and SB 128.
If you are a Maryland resident, please contact your lawmakers and tell them you want the chance to vote on legalization this year.
SB 517, introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), removes criminal penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia. The measure also imposes a new civil fine of up to $500 on public cannabis consumption. Gov. Hogan vetoed the bill in May 2015, after it was approved 32-13 in the Senate and 83-53 in the House of Delegates.
Maryland adopted a law in 2014 that was intended to decriminalize simple marijuana possession, but it did not include marijuana paraphernalia.
The work is not over, however. Until cannabis is legal and regulated for adults, Marylanders who choose to consume a substance safer than alcohol will still be stigmatized as lawbreakers, racially biased enforcement of marijuana laws will continue to result in unequal justice, and the marijuana market will continue to be in the shadows.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee neutered two marijuana policy reform bills. Instead of considering the proposed policies on their merits, the committee completely amended the content of the bills to create a task force to study the issues. The two bills, SB 364 and HB 880, formerly would have respectively decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and regulated marijuana similarly to alcohol.
The decriminalization bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, has passed the Senate two years in a row with overwhelming bipartisan support — most recently, last month, in a 36-8 vote.
The Committee acted two days after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed into law the most lenient decriminalization law in the country, and the same day as a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 76% of Americans don't think people should be jailed for simple possession.
For the second year in a row, the Maryland Senate has approved Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Today’s vote had an even wider margin than last year’s. Seven Republicans joined 29 Democrats for a 36-8 bipartisan vote. SB 364 now heads to the House Judiciary Committee for its consideration.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee heard nearly eight hours of testimony on proposals to decriminalize and legalize marijuana from MPP and other members of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland.
SB 364 would replace criminal penalties for the possession of 10 grams of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $100. This is a much-needed measure in Maryland, which has the fourth-highest arrest rate per capita for marijuana possession. Arrest records have a devastating effect on a young person’s life, and can become an obstacle to obtaining an education, employment, and even housing. SB 364 is a strong step towards ending the ineffective and destructive prohibition of marijuana. This bill would also free up law enforcement to focus on addressing serious crimes instead of arresting adults for using a substance objectively safer than alcohol.