Maryland state lawmakers want to triple the limits of marijuana possession that one may have on their person. The state Senate passed a bill Monday that would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of weed. Currently, the limit is 10 grams. Offenders possessing less than that amount face only civil penalties. Larger amounts incur criminal charges.
The senators passed the bill by a vote of 36-11. One of those who voted for the measure, Democrat James Brochin of Baltimore County, said he does not support full legalization of cannabis. But, he told local media, lawmakers need to set law enforcement priorities for the state.
“This is about whether you should go to jail for smoking marijuana,” he said. “These cells should be for violent offenders.”
But other senators want to continue the harsher stance of current law. Republican Sen. Robert G. Cassilly of Hartford County voted against the bill. He believes that possessing an ounce of weed is too much for only civil penalties to apply.
“If you decriminalize enough, you’ve essentially legalized,” he said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller also voted against the new law. He believes that in the midst of a national opioid overdose epidemic, relaxing laws on other drugs is “going the opposite way.”
However, mounting evidence shows that opioid use is actually less in states with medical marijuana programs in place. Some states are even adding opioid withdrawal as an approved condition to qualify for medical marijuana.
Stiffer Penalties for Using Pot in Cars
The bill passed Monday also increases penalties for using marijuana in vehicles. The law will now treat pot use by drivers or passengers in cars as a crime. These provisions are similar to laws regulating alcohol use in cars.
Baltimore County Democratic Sen. Robert A. Zirkin called the measure a “push and pull” policy for the way that it relaxes sanctions on simple possession. But the law will also clamp down on those who mix pot with the dangers of driving.
Zirkin believes that the current limit is arbitrary, as well as too low.
“The randomness of 10 grams, it just doesn’t correspond to anything,” he said. “It was a number picked out of the sky by the House Judiciary committee.”
Maryland Also Considering Legalization
Lawmakers are also considering another bill that would legalize, rather than just decriminalize, cannabis in the state. That plan would put a constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use on the ballot in November. Approval from 60 percent of both legislative houses is required to advance the measure to an election.
Kate Ball is legislative counsel for advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project. She told a Baltimore television affiliate that letting the voters decide has a history of success.
“So far, all but one of the states that have legalized marijuana have done so through ballot initiative. The public is actually well ahead of some lawmakers on this issue,” she said.
Final Hit: State Lawmakers Want To Triple The Limits of Marijuana Possession
The bill passed Monday will next head to the Maryland General Assembly for consideration. If it is successful there, it will become law if it is signed by Gov. Larry Hogan.