April 8, 2014

O’Malley will sign bill decriminalizing marijuana

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By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

Jeremy@marylandreporter.com

Marijuana plantAfter a long-waged political battle, Gov. Martin O’Malley has indicated he will sign a bill that removes criminal penalties for possession 10 grams of marijuana or less.

The General Assembly OKed the measure on the last day of 90-day session Monday. With no debate, the Senate voted Monday 34-8 to approve the bill, SB 364. The House of Delegates already approved the bill Saturday.

O’Malley told reporters Monday that he plans to sign the legislation.

“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,”  O’Malley said in a statement. “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.”

CORRECTED 4/8/2014, 1:30 p.m.:Under the bill, offenders will face fines that jump with subsequent breaches: $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense, and $500 $300 for the third offense.

Changes to mollify House

The House Judiciary Committee had amended the bill from its original counterpart, in part to alleviate concerns from Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s County.

The amendments dictate that anyone 21 and younger must appear in court and be evaluated for a substance abuse problem — anyone on a third strike must also appear in court.

Unaddressed in the bill is the fact that circumstantial paraphernalia remains illegal. Essentially, the presence of a bowl, bong, pipe, dime bag or similar apparatuses in a car would still give law enforcement cause to search the vehicle.

Possession of paraphernalia carries a $500 fine, but no jail time, according to the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County.

Zirkin said had he included a provision decriminalizing paraphernalia, but law enforcement officers would lose their ability to search a car in a lot of circumstances.

“That was a deliberate attempt on my part to keep it as law-and-ordery [sic] as possible,” he said. “It was a concern.”

Zirkin called the bill’s passage a bipartisan effort, signaling out Howard County Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman as a force in persuading the GOP into voting yes.

Eight Republicans and two Democrats voted against the bill, while seven Republicans voted in favor.