Ed Andrieski/File/AP

Maryland lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana

Measure to drop criminal possession charges passes state House; goes back to Senate, which approved earlier version

State lawmakers in Maryland’s House of Delegates voted Saturday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The state’s Senate has already approved a similar measure – but some changes made by the House would still need to be approved by the Senate in order to pass the bill before the legislative session ends at midnight Monday.

The House voted 78-55 for the bill that would eliminate criminal charges for possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana, or about one-third of an ounce.

Maximum civil fines – non-criminal penalties – had been set at $100 by the Senate, but the House bill raises the penalty to $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third. It also stipulates that certain offenders – those under 21, and those caught three times or more –be evaluated for treatment.

Maryland’s Democratic governor will review the bill if it passes the General Assembly, said Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“He’s considering it,” Smith said.

Republicans had introduced several amendments to the bill – such as requiring a public service campaign highlighting the dangers of smoking, or letting it remain a criminal offense to smoke pot in public. None of the measures made it through.

“We don’t have to notify the public that they’re not supposed to use marijuana,” said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery. “It’s still illegal.”

Much of Saturday’s debate focused on whether decriminalization would encourage teens to smoke marijuana.

“It’s a vote to say, ‘You know what, kid? It’s OK,’” said Delegate Mike McDermott, R-Worcester. “It’s to turn your back on the problem.”

Dumais said a better way to deal with drug abuse is to encourage treatment, rather than imprisonment.

Arguments in support of the bill tended to focus on racial disparities in drug law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union found last year that black people in Baltimore are 5.6 times more likely than the city’s white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession.

If O’Malley signs the bill, it would take effect Oct. 1.

The Associated Press

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter