By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Marijuana plant    Maryland residents are split on whether or not to support the legalization of marijuana, but do support decriminalizing marijuana, a Goucher poll released Wednesday finds.

    The poll, which interviewed 861 residents last week, comes just as multiple bills on the legal status of marijuana are being considered by the legislature. Almost 46% of those surveyed in the poll admitted to having tried marijuana themselves at some point in their lives.

    The overall number of people who both oppose and favor marijuana legalization remained largely unchanged since a similar poll was conducted in October. Half of Maryland residents polled (50%) indicated they would support the legalization of marijuana, while only 39% were opposed to legalization.

    The portion of respondents who described themselves as “strongly opposed” as versus just “opposed” increased by 5%. The poll has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.3%.

    Two bills which deal with the topic of marijuana legalization are currently being considered by the legislature. SB658 was heard in committee at the end of February, while HB880 will have a hearing Thursday.

Broader support to make marijuana possession a civil offense

Support for decriminalization of marijuana was much broader than support for legalization. When asked to compare marijuana and alcohol use, 57% thought the regulations placed on marijuana should be roughly equal to those placed on alcohol.

In terms of specific punishments for those caught with a small amount of marijuana in their possession, 45% of those polled supported fines, while 36% supported rehabilitation. Only 7% of respondents thought jail time was an appropriate penalty.

 A bill aiming to decriminalize marijuana, SB364, got preliminary approval in the Senate Wednesday.

The poll also found that support for legal medical marijuana was an overwhelming 90%.

    “It appears that residents support the decriminalization of marijuana and have doubts that the use of marijuana is a gateway to hard drug use,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher, which conducted the poll. She added that residents are “divided over whether to legalize it for recreational use.”

Support for paid sick leave, raising minimum wage, and transgender tolerance

    In exploring other high-profile political issues, the poll found that 80% of residents are in support of requiring Maryland businesses to provide paid sick leave for their employees, and 73% are in support of raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

    HB527, which requires employers to provide sick leave, was heard in committee mid-February, while HB295, which would raise the state’s minimum wage, passed in the House 89-46 last Friday.

The poll indicates that 71% of Maryland residents also support measures to protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity, such as those in SB212, which passed the Senate, 32-15, March 5.