The Chatter

Legalize It? General Assembly Debating New Marijuana Laws

Baltimore and Howard County senators sponsor pot decriminalization bill.

As the marijuana legalization debate grows across the country,
Baltimore County Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Howard County Sen. Alan Kittleman
introduced legislation Wednesday that would decriminalize small amounts
of pot in Maryland. Pointing to broadening public support for such
measures, it’s worth noting that while Zirkin is a Democrat—the party
viewed as more liberal on such social issues—Kittleman is a Republican running for county executive.

Senate Bill 364,
if passed and signed into law, would reduce the possession of less than
10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense, authorizing
police officers only to issue citations for possession under specified
circumstances. Last year,
a similar measure sponsored by Zirkin and Kittleman passed Maryland’s
Senate by a vote of 30-16, but failed to win support in the House of

Earlier this month, Sen. Jamie Raskin, Del. Curt Anderson, and Del. Sheila Hixson announced the formation of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland
and support for the outright legalization of marijuana. Their proposal,
The Marijuana Control Act of 2014, “would make the personal use,
possession, and limited home-growing of marijuana legal for adults 21
years of age and older; establish a system in which marijuana is
regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol; and allow for the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.”

the passage of marijuana decriminalization—or a step further—the
legalization of marijuana, and subsequent regulation and taxation, is
very unlikely this year.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, in the final year of his second term, is on record opposing
marijuana legalization in the manner of Colorado and Washington state.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, currently campaigning for governor, has only
gone so far as to say he would consider decriminalization
and/or legalization proposals if they enable law enforcement officials
to focus on more serious crimes. A spokesman for Attorney General
Douglas Gansler, also running for governor, said Gansler doesn’t consider legalization “appropriate.” Last year, O’Malley signed legislation making Maryland the 19th to state to allow marijuana for medical purposes.

Still, the tide appears to have turned. Earlier this year, powerful Senate president Mike Miller
said he now supports the legalization of marijuana—and Miller’s support
is crucial to getting anything accomplished in the General Assembly.

This fall, a Goucher College poll
found that 51 percent of Marylanders support marijuana legalization and
40 percent oppose such a measure. Also, Del. Heather Mizeur, a
candidate for governor, has publicly stated her support for

And, this week President Obama weighed in and said he didn’t believe pot was more dangerous than alcohol.

the other hand, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said last week
she doesn’t support full legalization while City Council President Jack
Young said he supports decriminalization because of the negative impact
arrests have on employment opportunities for young people.

Finally, House Speaker Michael Busch told the Washington Post
that he thinks Maryland should wait to see how things pan out in
Colorado before acting. Which is probably what will happen, if for no
other reason then the passage of any decriminalization or legalization
law will ultimately likely rest on who wins the race to replace O’Malley
in the governor’s mansion.