Maryland Looks To Change Up Marijuana Policies

By Kelly Burch 03/21/18

State lawmakers are pushing to relax policies around marijuana possession while tightening others. 

man rolling a joint in the car

Lawmakers in Maryland reevaluated some of the state’s marijuana policies this week, with the state Senate voting to increase the amount of pot that a person can carry without facing legal charges, but at the same time making it illegal to smoke marijuana as a driver or a passenger in a car. 

According to The Baltimore Sun, state Senator Robert A. Zirkin, a Democrat representing Baltimore County, called it “a push and a pull” approach. The legislation had broad appeal, passing 36-11, but it still has to be voted on in the Maryland House of Representatives. 

Under current law, possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana has been decriminalized in Maryland since 2014. The proposed legislation in the Senate would decriminalize possession of an ounce of marijuana, or about 28 grams.

Proponents say that this adjustment would put Maryland’s laws in close alignment with the 22 other states that have decriminalized possession. “The randomness of 10 grams, it just doesn’t correspond to anything,” Zirkin said. “It was a number picked out of the sky by the House Judiciary committee.”

However, those who oppose the bill say that decriminalizing a greater amount of marijuana will move the state too far toward permissiveness for the drug.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller voted against the bill, saying that with the state in the grips of an opioid epidemic, relaxing drug laws is “going the opposite way.”

Republican Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, who voted against the bill, feared it would lead to de facto legalization. “If you decriminalize enough, you’ve essentially legalized,” he said.

Sen. James Brochin, another Democrat representing Baltimore County, voted for the increase even though he does not support the idea of legalizing marijuana use. “This is about whether you should go to jail for smoking marijuana,” he said. “These cells should be for violent offenders.”

More changes in the state’s marijuana policy are likely coming, since the General Assembly in Maryland is slated to consider more than two dozen marijuana-related bills this year. There has been some push to legalize marijuana use in the state through a constitutional amendment, but analysts say that would be hard to pass because it requires approval from two-thirds of both the House and Senate, as well as voter approval. 

“Putting my personal feelings aside, I don’t think that is going to happen this year,” Zirkin, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, told the Baltimore Sun earlier this year. 

Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that legislators are holding voters back from executing their wishes on marijuana policy.

“It’s an election year. It’s an incredibly popular issue with the public,” Bell said. “But lawmakers seem to be lagging behind.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.