A majority of Marylanders support legalizing marijuana
A recent poll jointly commissioned by MPP and the ACLU of Maryland found that 53% of voters in Maryland support taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol. MPP has been working with a strong coalition of local activists and organizations to bring a more sensible approach to marijuana policies in Maryland.
Last year, for the first time, the legislature considered a bill to make marijuana legal — HB 1453, sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson. This bill would have removed all criminal penalties for the use and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over and would have taxed and regulated marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. The House Judiciary Committee failed to take action before the deadline.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s “decriminalization” bill — SB 297 — made significant progress, but also did not advance before the deadline. This bill would have removed criminal penalties and made possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil “cite-and-fine” offense. The Senate approved the bill in a 30-17 vote, but it wasn’t called for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Similar bills are likely to be introduced in the 2014 legislative session. We hope that these new poll results will show political leaders in Maryland that voters are ready for a more sensible approach to marijuana policy. Please ask your legislators to take marijuana off the criminal market and tax and regulate it similarly to alcohol.
Marijuana laws in Maryland
Under the current law, a person in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana faces up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. A conviction for possession of over 10 grams can result in up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Although African-Americans and whites use marijuana at nearly the same rate, the enforcement of marijuana laws has been far from equal. This report by the ACLU found that blacks are about three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites.
Last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill, HB 1101, to create a hospital-based medical marijuana research program. Introduced by Del. Dan Morhaim, M.D., this law is based on a proposal developed by Secretary Joshua Sharfstein of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The new law is far from perfect — marijuana would only be provided through teaching hospitals, which may or may not be willing to move forward with a program for patients, and the system will not take effect until at least 2015. Nonetheless, this bill is a step in the right direction, and we hope the state can provide relief to some of its neediest citizens. The new law went into effect on October 1, 2013.
In addition to the medical marijuana research law, an affirmative defense of “medical necessity” for people charged with possession is also available for both patients and caregivers.
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