Maryland Senate Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana

The legislation would reclassify the possession or use of less than 10 grams of marijuana as a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine.

The Maryland Senate passed a bill to decriminalize recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana. File|Patch
The Maryland Senate passed a bill to decriminalize recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana. File|Patch


Capital News Service

After a 22-minute debate Friday, the Maryland Senate passed a bill to decriminalize recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state with a bipartisan vote of 36 to 8.

If passed by the House and signed into law, the legislation would reclassify the possession or use of less than 10 grams of marijuana as a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. It is currently a criminal offense punishable to no more than 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Convicted juveniles and, in accordance with an amendment proposed by Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, adults convicted for a third or subsequent time, could also be mandated in court to attend drug treatment or education programs.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, told lawmakers Friday that the 18 states that have already decriminalized small amounts of marijuana have seen “no discernable effect.”

“When [the other states] moved from a criminal to a civil statute, there has been no increase in drugged driving, no increase in marijuana usage, no increase in the so-called ‘gateway effect,’” Zirkin said. Opponents have previously argued that marijuana can be a ‘gateway’ to more dangerous drugs.

Shank, who sponsored another amendment that would direct revenue from citations to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to combat drug abuse, also testified in favor of the bill. He did, however, acknowledge that he is opposed to the drug’s legalization.

“The war on drugs ... is not working in the state of Maryland. It is not working in the United States. We are spending incredible resources with our judiciary with our law enforcement, and the rate of drug use is not going down,” he said.

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, cast one of the eight votes against the legislation.

“I think it sends the wrong message to our children. There’s quite a buzz in our high schools about this bill. … And what I’m hearing is that it’s just like a speeding ticket: They don’t want a speeding ticket, but if they get it, they just move on,” Simonaire said.

“Two years ago, I believe we had a ‘Just Say No’ policy to drugs, which many parents agree with. Now, under this, I think it’s more like, ‘Just Say a Little’ — like 10 grams — and then, at this rate in a year or so, we would just say, ‘Just Do It,’” Simonaire said.

The Senate also passed a decriminalization bill last year by a margin of 30-16, but it died in a House committee.

Another bill, which would decriminalize the possession of a slightly larger amount of marijuana, was debated Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee. The sponsor, Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, who is running for governor, proposes decriminalizing one ounce of marijuana — which is about 28 grams. The committee has not yet taken further action.

Proposals to legalize and tax marijuana in Maryland are also pending in House and Senate committees.

Mike March 15, 2014 at 11:57 PM
Bob, do you really think those currently criminalized "pot heads" aren't out there driving now? Hate to tell ya but they are. They're currently flying down union ave at about 15 mph to get tasty cakes from 7-11.
Steven Spiegel March 16, 2014 at 10:07 AM
It's about time we threw away the refer madness attitudes and realize it's not that bad. I would rather see my kids smoke weed then drink . I would rate hard liquor rite up with heroine. I have seen people almost die from alcohol withdrawal. I believe alcohol to be the worst drug out there.
tommyboy55 March 16, 2014 at 10:53 AM
My daughter and her boyfriend were targeted by the police in North Carolina a few years ago where pot possession is still a felony. She was 19 and the local cops in Elizabeth City intimidated her into allowing them into their house when her boyfriend was away. They found 1 shriveled up pot plant in a closet from a roommate who had left the house months earlier. She and her boyfriend were arrested, charged with three felonies each, and it cost me $5,000 in legal fees and fines, several weeks of missed work traveling down to that hick-ass courthouse, and an enormous amount of grief to get the charges down to misdemeanors that will be expunged from her record in one year. The local legal community seems to survive on such cases. Her boyfriend did not do as well, since his parents didn't have the resources to help him. He spent two weeks in jail, lost his job, and is now considered a felon in NC because he didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to defend himself. Please don't tell me this is not an important piece of legislation. My daughter, if convicted of having a shriveled up pot plant in the house where she lived for several months, would not be able to get a government job, not be able to vote, not be eligible for federal student loans, and most importantly, would consider herself a criminal the rest of her life. All for a plant that is less dangerous than having a beer. Maryland should legalize marijuana and expunge all previous records of people convicted of the offense.
patricia March 19, 2014 at 08:06 AM
Decriminalize pot, and then fine people for smoking it in public places. I wonder if the fine for pot will be higher than the one for cigarettes or e-cigs. What a politician won't do for a tax or a fee or a fine. Liberal progressive has gone to a whole new level.
Frank J Burkhardt March 30, 2014 at 07:08 AM
Bob Higginbotham- There is no history of this as there is with alcohol, so the case should be that alcohol should be illegal and cannabis legal. Your suggestion completely without support. Give it a rethink using only your intellect and not your emotions.


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