2016 brings full decriminalization and the possibility of further reform
Last update: January 22, 2016
In 2014, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation to replace criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine. Unfortunately, the bill failed to eliminate the criminal penalties for paraphernalia associated with marijuana, so Marylanders were still being criminally prosecuted for possessing a container for cannabis. In 2015, the General Assembly passed Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s SB 517, which completed the reform, but it was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan. Thankfully, the legislature overrode his veto, so on February 20, 2016, marijuana possession will be fully decriminalized.
Unfortunately, the same day as the override, a bill was introduced that would take the state in the wrong direction. HB 183 would impose criminal penalties for smoking marijuana in public. Criminal convictions result in 150 collateral consequences and can derail dreams by making it difficult to get jobs, housing, and an education. The state already has a strong deterrent to public smoking — a civil fine of up to $500.
Meanwhile, while eliminating criminal penalties for adults who choose to use a substance that is safer than alcohol is a great step forward, a new poll shows that 53% of Marylanders want the legislature to go further and tax and regulate marijuana.
A bill is expected to be introduced later this session that would do just that. You can be part of this effort by supporting the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland and by emailing your lawmakers in support of ending marijuana prohibition today.
In the 2016 legislative session, the General Assembly is considering a bill that would improve Maryland’s medical cannabis program by expanding the list of providers who can recommend it. In addition, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission continues to move toward licensing cultivators, which it is expected to do this summer, and dispensaries, which are likely going to be licensed in the fall.
A brief history: Maryland’s first medical marijuana law merely prevented patients who had been charged with possessing up to an ounce of marijuana from being convicted if they could prove medical necessity. Then in 2013, Maryland lawmakers approved a law creating an unworkable research-based program that depended on teaching hospitals to implement. Understandably, hospitals were unwilling to risk their federal funding to participate.
Finally in 2014, Maryland passed a workable medical marijuana law, which allows qualifying patients to possess up to a 30-day supply of medical marijuana (as determined by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission) and allows licensed dispensaries to distribute medical marijuana grown by a maximum of 15 licensed cultivators. Patients and caregivers are not permitted to grown their own marijuana.
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