ANNAPOLIS - If the nation’s largest marijuana lobbying organization has its way, Maryland will legalize marijuana by 2017.

The Marijuana Policy Project announced this week that Maryland and nine other states will be targets of a renewed push for marijuana policy reform.

That means legislation like the decriminalization bill introduced by state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, may have a better chance of making progress in the next General Assembly session.

Zirkin’s bill failed to come to a vote in the House this spring but he plans to re-introduce the bill next year, and may even go a step further and propose legislation that would put the decision in voters’ hands by referendum, he said.

“What I’m proposing is not some radical proposition,” Zirkin said. “It’s been done in a variety of states all across the country. The results have been studied. It’s not a hard argument.”

Zirkin’s decriminalization bill would have changed marijuana possession of less than 10 grams from a criminal to a civil offense. Instead of facing up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine, perpetrators would pay a maximum $100 fine. It was supported by a 30-16 bipartisan vote in the Maryland Senate.

Zirkin said he met with representatives from the Marijuana Policy Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland earlier this week to discuss plans for moving forward.

“We’re very interested in supporting this bill,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project

Over the next few years, Marylanders can expect increased public conversation about the topic as analysts from the organization testify in hearings, recruit witnesses and submit written testimony, she said. A portion of the $2 million to $5 million in donations the group receives every year could be designated for education and publicity initiatives in Maryland, O’Keefe said.

Maryland is one of 12 states that considered marijuana decriminalization or legalization bills this year, O’Keefe said. The biggest push for new legislation is happening in New England and in the western United States, with particular appeal among younger voters, she said.

In May, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill that authorized teaching hospitals and research centers in Maryland to distribute medical marijuana. The state also recently reduced penalties for marijuana possession under 10 grams and authorized “medical necessity” as legal defense for marijuana use. But while these changes constitute a small step forward, the impact may not be widely felt, said O’Keefe.

“Maryland has taken wary steps for medical marijuana,” she said. “There are tiny programs and barely any patients qualify.”

If Zirkin’s bill passes next year, Maryland will be the 18th state to institute an alternative to incarceration for marijuana possession. Incarceration and enforcement of marijuana prohibition cost the state millions of dollars each year, according to a new report by the ACLU. In 2010, Maryland spent more than $160 million enforcing and litigating its marijuana possession policies, the report said. The state also had one of the highest per-capita marijuana possession arrest rates, with approximately half a million arrests in 2010, according to the ACLU.

But gaining support from the House may prove a challenge.

“I suspect the House Judiciary Committee will have to work long and hard to come up with an appropriate and intelligent bill,” said Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery.

Simmons said that while he is in favor of lessening penalties for marijuana possession and instituting fines instead of incarceration, he is concerned that Zirkin’s bill makes no distinction between children and adult marijuana users.

“[The bill] treated 9-year-olds the same as people who are 90,” he said. “I thought it was a terrible deficit. What I will be insisting on for my vote is that it addresses these issues.”

Other members, such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s, have made it clear they will fight Zirkin’s legislation. A meeting on Monday between Zirkin and Vallario did not result in a compromise, Zirkin said.

“I didn’t come from the meeting optimistic that the chairman would support any movement on this issue,” he said.

Vallario could not be reached for comment.

A common concern among opponents of more relaxed marijuana policies is that bills like Zirkin’s could cause an increase in marijuana and other drug use.

Marina Williams, 20, said she smokes regularly and said the law has little bearing on the amount marijuana she buys or consumes.

A Maryland resident for 17 years, Williams recently moved to New York City where possession of under 25 grams is a violation and not a criminal offense. Williams said she makes multiple trips to Maryland every year, but that neither state’s legislation has an effect on her habits or choices. Williams said she purchases about a gram at a time and “likes to have it on hand.” She said she has never been fined or arrested for possession.

Williams said she doesn’t believe marijuana policies short of legalization have an effect on average residents.

“I highly doubt that people who don’t [smoke] would be like ‘oh I can smoke now that its decriminalized’,” she said.

But as national attention on legalization and decriminalization efforts increases, Zirkin hopes the momentum will help carry his bill through the legislature, he said. Endorsements from public figures like CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and the U.S. Department of Justice’s landmark decision to honor state laws regarding recreational and medical marijuana use may also have an impact.

“Recently you’ve seen an avalanche of national folks discussing this,” Zirkin said. “The federal government coming out and saying they’re going to respect the laws of the individual states...that’s a major change.”

(19) comments

watson4sherlock

Do medical marijuana users have right to bear arms? No, says ATF

See http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44712648/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/do-medical-marijuana-users-have-right-bear-arms-no-says-atf/

president8444

Legailize it and tax it like whiskey.No more income taxes for us like texas.

Wayo44Mag

My dear Mr. Watson .. Just what does smoking dope have to do with guns????

watson4sherlock

Funny how people from out-of-state think it is so important to legalize marijuana in this state. You got that gun. Why should you get a joint too?

Brian Kelly posted at 8:24 am on Fri, Sep 13, 2013.
Posts: 1

watson4sherlock

Federal law already makes it illegal for someone to possess a gun if he or she is "an unlawful user of, or addicted to" marijuana or other controlled substances.

A Sept. 21 letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, issued in response to numerous inquiries from gun dealers, clarifies that medical marijuana patients are included in that definition.

"There are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by state law," said the letter by Arthur Herbert, the ATF's assistant director for enforcement programs and services.

See http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44712648/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/do-medical-marijuana-users-have-right-bear-arms-no-says-atf/

CRSmith88

Looks like the only opposition to this bill will come from the holy hills west of the Potapsaco and the sacred flats east of the Choptank. If it isnt enough to swing the states presidential electorate red, it wont be enough to hold back the tides of change.

Brian Kelly

In the prohibitionist's world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are stoners and dopers that need to be incarcerated to protect society.

In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their god given duty to worry about saving us all from the evils of marijuana use.

Who are they to tell us we can't choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of a glass of wine for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

People who use marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who "follow the law" also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it's current prohibition of course) .

Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make us out to be. We are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

The President of The United States himself has confessed to his regular marijuana use during his college years, as has a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

I am an educated 40 year old professional, and I am blessed with a wonderful family and life, and I've worked real hard for everything I have, but that doesn't mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like "dopers" and "stoners" about anybody who uses the slightest amount of marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, glorifies, and advertises alcohol consumption like it's an All American pastime.

There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long, hard day, than having a glass a wine.

So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to me that I can't enjoy marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of my own home?

I've worked hard my whole life to provide for my loved ones. I don't appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

Has a marijuana user ever tried to FORCE you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force us not to either.

Don't try to impose your morality and "clean living" upon all of us with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won't think your such prohibitionist hypocrites.

Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

watson4sherlock

Welcome to FNP. You're not from around here are you?

Sanker

^ Here here and bravo!!!!!!!!!!![thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Excellently put!!!!!!!!!!!!

watson4sherlock

People who use marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who "follow the law" also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it's current prohibition of course).

Marijuana is against the law. Since you are such honest people you should turn yourselves in and accept the consequences. Other people who are more honest deserve your jobs.

Sanker

Pot has been smoked for centuries, if not eons. It's only been illegal for 76 years, thanks to DuPont. What's that tell you? When was the last time you read about someone smoking a joint and then going out and snatching an old lady's purse, raping a young girl, or putting a pistol to someone's head?

watson4sherlock

You are really brave to ask that question, aren't you? What if you get the answer?

watson4sherlock

Police arrested Ellis Ira Scarborough, 45, of West Columbia, and charged him with hit and run, simple possession of marijuana, purse snatching, and other traffic related offenses.

See http://irmo.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/west-columbia-police-arrest-purse-snatcher

watson4sherlock

The children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were drugged with cannabis, amphetamine and Viagra by the unemployed man before he abused them on April 21 last year.

See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2191101/Darren-Mackrell-Southampton-man-guilty-raping-children-drugged.html

watson4sherlock

Xavier Terell Kindle, 18, driver of the truck in which a 16-year-old Muskegon girl was shot in the head Thursday, has been charged with felony marijuana delivery.

See http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2013/06/driver_of_truck _in_which_muske.html

usgov

Legalizing marijuana and cocaine will thin the herd.

watson4sherlock

But not the right members of the herd. Driving while high on marijuana kills.

Stoned Drivers Hit Test Course In Washington To Evaluate Marijuana DUI Limits (VIDEO)

See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/18/stoned-drivers-test-course-marijuana-dui_n_2711358.html

Comment deleted.
watson4sherlock

Why are you driven to respond in kind?

fredneckian

As the medicinal benefits of marihuana have been established in numerous studies worldwide and is well established as a treatment of many symptoms and ailments I fail to comprehend how it can possibly still be classified as a schedule 1 drug.

Aw, that's right, it's dope! I forgot! It hurts society far more than tobacco or alcohol. I do not recall, and if someone could bring it back to my memory I would appreciate it, but what medicinal effects does tobacco laced with artificial carcinogens have again?

Yet how many tobacco abusers are utterly aghast that "dope" can even be considered for decriminalization?

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