Pot decriminalization, minimum-wage hike pass in session's final hours

A general view of the Maryland House of Delegates chamber Monday in Annapolis, the final day of the 2014 legislative session. 

ANNAPOLIS — Measures to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana won final stamps of approval from legislators as they wrapped up their work in the Maryland State House.

On Monday, the final day of the state’s three-month legislative session, Senate lawmakers passed a bill that would remove criminal penalties for carrying less than 10 grams of marijuana. Possessing small amounts of the substance would be a civil offense punishable by fines of up to $100. Possessing more than 10 grams would still be considered a criminal offense.

Both Frederick County senators helped give the bill final approval, sending the proposal to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk.

The governor released a statement after the bill’s passage indicating he planned to sign it into law.

Under the bill, someone who has racked up three or more civil violations could be sent to a court-ordered drug treatment program. Sen. David Brinkley said he supports monitoring and rehabilitating these individuals rather than jailing them.

“The way we’ve been doing things for the past 100 years hasn’t worked, and the courts can’t accommodate the volume of it,” said Brinkley, R-District 4.

The House of Delegates approved the marijuana decriminalization bill Saturday after shooting down a series of amendments.

Delegate Kathy Afzali offered two amendments to the proposal, one that would keep marijuana possession a crime but ease penalties for the first two offenses. Another proposed change would have lowered from 10 to 5 grams the threshold between civil and criminal possession.

Afzali said she understands giving young people a second chance, but doesn’t believe decriminalization is the right approach.

“We’re giving permission for young people to smoke dope, and I don’t think that’s our intention, because it is a dangerous and highly addictive drug,” said Afzali, R-District 4A.

Delegate Michael Hough, R-District 3B, argued for keeping criminal penalties for people who possess marijuana in a school zone.

These amendments failed, and the proposal passed by a vote of 78 to 55, with Delegate Galen Clagett the only local lawmaker supporting it in the House.

Legislators on Monday also passed a bill to expand access to treatment with medical marijuana.

A higher minimum

The minimum-wage hike, a key piece of O’Malley’s legislative agenda this session, also cleared the General Assembly to the chagrin of most Frederick County lawmakers.

The proposal would gradually increase the current minimum rate of $7.25 per hour until it reaches $10.10 in July 2018.

The Maryland House of Delegates gave final passage to the bill Monday after a brief debate on whether it would negatively affect businesses in the state.

The decision won praise from President Barack Obama, who said Congress should learn from Maryland’s example.

“They should follow Maryland’s lead and lift wages for 28 million Americans by passing legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10, helping to ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty, and that every American who works hard has the opportunity to succeed,” Obama said in a statement.

Sen. Ron Young, who co-sponsored the bill, said the proposal will benefit the economy by giving low-wage workers more spending money.

“I think it will help a lot of people,” said Young, D-District 3. “The way to get people off poverty is to give them opportunity and give them a salary that’s workable.”

Delegate Kelly Schulz said she was glad that lawmakers watered down the wage-hike legislation before passing it. The version initially proposed by O’Malley featured a shorter implementation timeline, raised the minimum hourly rates for tipped employees and indexed the minimum wage to rise with inflation.

However, Schulz said the mandated increase will still burden many small businesses. Most of the pay hikes are timed to happen in July, a midyear shift that will inconvenience businesses, she said.

“I think there will be parts of it that will be very difficult,” Schulz, R-District 4A, said of the increases. “I don’t like the implementation dates. I don’t like the overall rate where it’s going, at $10.10.”

Farewells

Monday was a day of goodbyes for Clagett and Delegate Patrick Hogan, who have decided not to run for re-election.

During his last year in Annapolis, Clagett, D-District 3A, pushed a package of proposals to make the state a better place to do business.

One of his bills, which gained final approval Monday, would create a business ombudsman position within the governor’s Cabinet to streamline the relationship between government and business.

Hogan said he spent time this session working on reforming the legislative redistricting process.

While his proposal ended up dying, it attracted bipartisan support and sparked conversation about gerrymandering.

“It’s a positive step, and maybe sometime in the future the state will look at doing the right thing with redistricting,” said Hogan, R-District 3A.

As his final session draws to a close, Hogan said he has enjoyed his time in office but is ready to bow out.

Monday also marked an ending for Delegate Don Elliott, who is running for re-election, but in a newly shaped district that no longer includes Frederick County. Elliott, R-District 4B, said he has “always loved Frederick County” and found it very similar to his home jurisdiction, Carroll County.

Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.

(19) comments

squibmyer

"“We’re giving permission for young people to smoke dope, and I don’t think that’s our intention, because it is a dangerous and highly addictive drug,” said Afzali, R-District 4A."

No one is giving permission to anyone to do anything. We are removing ridiculous penalties for adults who engage in activities which cause less harm than drinking.

FrederickFamilyMan


Afzali sounds like an uneducated knucklehead every time i hear her talk about this.[thumbup]

2ndAffirmative

It will deter Marylanders from buying junk food if it costs more.

If you can't afford an $8.50 Happy Meal you'll have to settle for a $2.00 TV dinner from the grocery store.

GMrT

Marijuana decriminalization is a fiscally responsible move that frees up resources for the judicial system to deal with real criminals. One would think that conservatives would be in agreement with that.

FrederickFamilyMan

[thumbup]

public-redux

" One would think that conservatives would be in agreement with that."

We do.

aceemily


From the halls of Annapolis, their voices rang,
Smoke some dope, it ain't no thang.
And though we be damned with faint praise,
since we're here, let's give ourselves a raise.
The fruits of our labor; love and peace, your Democrat gang.

m21701m

A happymeal in Maryland will be $8.50.

nbouqu1


http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-22/san-franciscos-higher-minimum-wage-hasnt-hurt-the-economy

do some research. A strong minimum wage is good for the economy.

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2014/01/24/san-francisco-employment.html

newperson

Things that are produced with minimum wage labor may rise slightly in price. There are estimates out there that a $10 minimum wage will increase the cost of most burgers by 5 to 10 cents. Do you think it is fair to ask people to work for a wage that does not pay them enough to pay for both rent and food so that your junk food can continue to be super cheap?

CRACKER_LEE

We need mandatory drug testing for our politicians.

normalperson

Happy days are here again!!!!!!! Now we need for them to go back and legalize

FrederickFamilyMan

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

business

[thumbup]

Arcticdc5

Brilliant - so now school drug dealers can carry 10 ounces or less and not be punished. Thats the direction of liberal MD...sad.

nbouqu1

your outrage might be more convincing if you actually read the article. And knew the difference between grams and ounces.

FrederickFamilyMan

“We’re giving permission for young people to smoke dope, and I don’t think that’s our intention, because it is a dangerous and highly addictive drug,” said Afzali, R-District 4A.

Is there no age restriction on this? If a 10 year old i caught with 9 grams of pot, what happens??

Afzali is a moron if she really thinks "it is a dangerous and highly addictive drug", but i certainly dont think its appropriate for all ages.

Fredmd21705

I am curious, did you even read the bill?

newperson

The threshold is 10 grams, not 10 ounces. 10 grams is less than one-half of one ounce. Selling any amount still entails the exact same criminal penalties as before. Dealing near schools is still punished more heavily than dealing elsewhere. And if you don't think a $100 fine is a punishment, would you be OK with $100 parking tickets?

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