Unfortunately, the Maryland House of Delegates just took a step backwards and passed HB 777, a regressive bill that would saddle people with a criminal record for low-level marijuana offenses. Although smoking marijuana in public is already punishable by a stiff civil fine of up to $500, this bill would make it a criminal offense. A criminal record can make it hard to get jobs, employment, and an education, and it’s all the more alarming given racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement.
The good news is that the strong opposition from the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland helped get several amendments added to the bill that help mitigate its impact. And, although the vote in favor of the bill was a disappointing 102-35, several delegates deserve special mention for speaking out against it: Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County), Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery County), and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel & Prince George’s Counties). In addition, Del. Dan Morhaim deserves thanks for amending the bill to help protect medical patients by excluding them from its criminal penalties if they are using a vaporizer.
Despite this setback, however, the fight isn’t over. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration, and the coalition will continue working to ensure that Maryland’s cannabis policies continue to move forward, not backward.
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.
On Saturday, the Maryland House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved an amended version of the decriminalization bill. In a 78-55 vote, the House approved imposing civil fines — not criminal penalties and possible jail time — on those possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana.
The bill now goes back to the Senate for concurrence, before heading to Gov. Martin O’Malley. Gov. O’Malley has previously said he’s “not much in favor” of decriminalization.
Saturday's vote was the product of lots of hard work from MPP and our allies, both in the legislature and outside of it. Just a few days ago, the House Judiciary Committee gutted the decriminalization bill and replaced it with a task force that wouldn’t report back for two years. Thanks to the leadership from the Legislative Black Caucus and Del. Keiffer Mitchell, we were able to turn the tide. Many thanks to all of our supporters who emailed and called their delegates.
But our work on this long overdue reform is not done. Don’t forget to make sure you’re plugged in to our efforts by liking the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland on Facebook and following the coalition on Twitter.
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.