Will Maryland Decriminalize Weed?
A new state bill seeking to decriminalize small-scale pot possession stands a fighting chance.
Could Maryland be the next state to end marijuana prohibition? Yes, according to LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), who drew The Fix's attention this morning to a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing taking place today at 1pm to debate "SB 297." The bill—sponsored by Democratic Senator Bobby Zirkin—seeks to decriminalize small-scale possession in the Free State. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is “an international group of police officers, judges, corrections officials, border agents and other criminal justice professions who have witnessed the failures of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ firsthand.” The Fix interviewed Neill Franklin—the former Baltimore narcotics cop who became LEAP’s executive director—about his road-to-Damascus conversion into one of prohibition's most outspoken and effective critics. “Too many people are making literally billions from the illicit drug trade,” Franklin told us then. “And believe me, it’s not those young men standing out on the corners who are making it. They are the ones getting the least of what’s being generated. If we were really serious about helping our kids and our communities, we’d put our energies into education and treatment, and teach people, so they make the right decisions, period.”
Pot prohibition doesn’t just generate stacks of illicit cash—it also costs a great deal, according to Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron, who says that Maryland spends over $236 million per annum on marijuana enforcement. In the current era, many are asking whether that's worth the price tag. SB 297—which can be viewed in its entirety here—would reduce penalties for possession to a mere $100 dollar fine.
Neill Franklin carried out narcotics work for the Maryland State Police during his 34-year career; he's testifying in the bill’s favor at the hearing today. “The current laws force police officers in Maryland to waste hour after hour processing marijuana possession arrests,” he says. “Can you imagine how many more burglaries, rapes and murders we could solve if we put these wasted man-hours toward good use? Marijuana prohibition constitutes a serious threat to public safety." With 15 other states having already decriminalized low-level marijuana possession—and others, such as Hawaii, considering it—SB 297 looks to have a fighting chance.