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.