Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland
Organizations urge Gov. O'Malley to sign SB 364, which would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense; more than two-thirds of Maryland voters support stronger decriminalization legislation, and more than half of state voters support removing all penalties for adult marijuana possession
* Statement below from the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland *
ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland Senate gave final approval Monday (33-8) to a bill that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. It will now be sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who organizations are encouraging to sign the measure into law.
Senate Bill 364 will make possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program.
More than two-thirds of Maryland voters (68%) support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana (about 28.5 grams) and replacing them with a civil fine of up to $100, according to a September survey conducted by Public Policy Polling. It also found 53% of Maryland voters support making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and regulating it similarly to alcohol. The full results are available at www.mpp.org/MDpoll. The results of an annual survey released last week by the Pew Research Center showed a record-high 54% of Americans think marijuana should be legal, and 76% think possession of small amounts of marijuana should not warrant time in jail.
Fifteen other states have decriminalized marijuana possession, and two states - Washington and Colorado - have enacted laws making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol. On March 31, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that replaces criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in the District with a civil fine of $25.
The following is a statement from the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland:
"We applaud state lawmakers for taking action to end Maryland's antiquated practice of criminalizing people for simple marijuana possession. More than two out of three state voters believe this legislation's time has come, and we hope Gov. O'Malley will sign it into law once it reaches his desk.
"This measure will prevent tens of thousands of Marylanders from facing life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a less harmful substance than alcohol. But there is still more work to be done. Although it is a step in the right direction, this legislation will not do anything to eliminate the problems associated with relegating the sales of marijuana to the underground market.
"Most Marylanders, like most Americans, believe it is time move beyond the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and adopt a more sensible approach. It appears legislators are quickly coming to recognize the benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana, and we hope they will give strong consideration to taking that step next year."
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The Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland includes the ACLU of Maryland, CASA de Maryland, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Demand Progress, Equality Maryland, Job Opportunities Task Force, International Women's Cannabis Coalition-Maryland Chapter, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Libertarian Party of Maryland, Maryland Green Party, Marijuana Policy Project, Maryland Justice Project, Maryland NORML, Maryland United for Peace and Justice, Medical Cannabis Advocates of Maryland, Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Maryland State Conference, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, Montgomery County Young Democrats, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 400, and Veterans for Peace, Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter.