ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a bill 8-3 with bipartisan support on Friday that would replace criminal penalties with a civil fine for possession of limited amounts of marijuana. The measure will now receive a full vote in the Senate, which approved a similar measure last year with bipartisan support.
SB 364, a bill with bi-partisan support co-sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), would replace criminal penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana with a $100 fine, similar to a parking ticket. It would also make penalties for minors the same as those for underage possession of alcohol. Under current Maryland law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Maryland had the fourth highest arrest rate in the nation for marijuana possession, according to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union. It also found that blacks accounted for 58% of marijuana possession arrests and were more than three times more likely to be arrested than whites despite using marijuana at comparable rates.
More than two-thirds of Maryland voters (68%) support changing state laws to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100, according to a survey conducted in September by Public Policy Polling. The full results are available at http://www.mpp.org/MDpoll.
Statement from Dr. Nancy Rosen-Cohen, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Maryland:
“Branding someone a criminal for possessing marijuana causes a lifetime of harm. A criminal record of any kind becomes a barrier to employment and housing, which hurts both the individual and whole families.”
Statement from Rev. Dr. S. Todd Yeary, Political Action Chair of the Maryland State Conference NAACP:
“This is a major step on the road toward dismantling the harms that the failed war on drugs has wrought on poor communities and communities of color.”
Statement from Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project:
“Criminalizing adults for marijuana possession will not make Maryland safer, but this legislation will. Law enforcement officials should spend their time addressing serious crimes, not arresting and prosecuting adults for using a less harmful substance than alcohol.”
Statement from Sara Love, public policy director of ACLU-Maryland:
“Maryland’s counterproductive marijuana laws have resulted in a racially disparate approach of stopping, searching, and arresting people for possession of marijuana. That failed approach has wasted resources, hurt communities, and eroded trust with law enforcement.”