Although marijuana has been decriminalized in Maryland for the past year, it is still considered a violation of parole and probation to be caught in possession of the herb or submit a positive drug screen. However, a new bill, which won the approval of the House of Delegates earlier this week, seeks to eliminate this conflicting policy by making it no longer a criminal offense for those who have been in trouble with the law to use or possess small amounts of cannabis.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of resistance on the issue. The proposal only managed to pass by 10 votes, due to a number of lawmakers who believe that “outlaw” citizens with past indiscretions should not be encouraged to use recreational drugs. On the other end of the spectrum, supporters of the bill argue that it is hypocritical and not conducive to the overall scheme of the law to ban marijuana after it has been removed from criminal statutes.
The opposing forces on this matter recently delivered some frightening insight into their reasoning for voting against this legislation. Calling the drug culture “the most violent culture we have,” Delegate Jay Walker declared that although marijuana possession is not a violent offense, allowing criminal minds the freedom to associate with illegal substances is a breeding ground for debauchery and acts against civil society.
Other opposing lawmakers, like Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, claim the proposal is nothing more than “another step to make it easier for the drug culture to exist in our state.”
The common sense vote, however, comes from lawmakers who view this legislation as way to keep non-violent offenders out of the criminal justice system by simply upholding the integrity of the law. That group argues that since marijuana has been decriminalized in the state of Maryland, it is unjust to send people back to prison for its possession.
Similar policy amendments have been adopted in states where marijuana has been made legal. Last year, the Washington Department of Corrections announced that it would no longer test parolees for marijuana as a stipulation of their release. The DOC said that while they were not advocating for the use of marijuana, it would no longer punish former inmates for a substance the state says is legal. Correction officials explained the new policy was their way of “aligning with state law.”
On Monday, the Maryland legislature also approved a proposal aimed at eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crime. Supporters of this legislation believe that by allowing judges to have more flexibility when sentencing drug offenders, the state will save money by providing alternatives to jail. Of course, the opposition maintains the opinion that by not throwing drug offenders into prison, communities will experience an influx in drug dealers.
Interestingly, the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that arrests for drug possession in the United States grossly outnumber those for sales and manufacturing.