Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to legislation to eliminate criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.
Members of the state House of Delegates on Saturday passed the measure by a vote of 78 to 55. Members of the Senate on Monday approved the bill by a vote of 34 to 8. Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged that he intends to sign the bill into law.
The forthcoming law reduces existing penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor (presently punishable by arrest, up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record) to a non-arrestable, non-criminal fine-only offense ($100 fine for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders).
The new law will take effect on October 1, 2014.
According to a recent ACLU report, Maryland in 2010 possessed the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country.
Maryland’s pending law is similar to existing decriminalization laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.
Three states – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In March, lawmakers for the District of Columbia also approved legislation reducing penalties for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). The measure is subject to a 60-day review period by members of Congress before it can become District law.
Maryland lawmakers on Monday also approved separate legislation amending the state’s existing medical marijuana law, which had been largely nonfunctional. The pending law will allow for qualified patients to obtain cannabis for therapeutic purposes from state-licensed producers and distributors.
Recently, Gov. LePage introduced a bill, LD 1811, to crack down on heroin and cocaine trafficking. While we disagree with his approach (doubling-down on the War on Drugs) Sen. David Dutremble and Rep. Corey Wilson have crafted a compromise proposal in committee that would address many of the hard-drug addiction issues Maine faces, while putting marijuana legalization on the ballot before Maine voters.
Their proposal would create a three-legged stool that includes enforcement of high-level traffickers, increased funding for addiction treatment, and a referendum to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana put before Maine voters in 2015.
The state Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to vote on this measure very soon. Please call your State Senator and urge them to support the “Dutrumble/Wilson minority report on LD 1811. Let the people decide on marijuana legalization.”
The number for the Senate switchboard is (207) 287-1540. The number for the House switchboard is (207) 287-1400 (they can direct you to your appropriate legislator).
You can also look up your elected officials and their contact information to reach them directly here.
If the governor insists on cracking down on hard drug traffickers lets at least take responsible, adult marijuana consumers off the battlefield.
Today, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 78 to 55 in favor of Senate Bill 364 which reduces the penalty for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil offense.
Senate Bill 364 was originally amended by the House Judiciary Committee to simply form a task force to study the issue of marijuana decriminalization. However, this morning, under pressure from the House Black Caucus, the House Judiciary Committee reversed their vote and instead voted 13 to 8 to approve an amended version of SB 364. As amended by committee, the bill would make possession of 10 grams or less a civil offense with the first offense punishable by a $100. The fine for a second offense would be $250, and the fine for a third and subsequent offenses would be $500. The original Senate version set the fine at $100, no matter which offense it was. SB 364 is now expected to go to conference committee to resolve the differences between the version approved by the House and the one approved by the state Senate.
Commenting on today’s vote, NORML Communication Director Erik Altieri stated, “This bill represents a great step forward in reversing the devastating effect current marijuana policies have on communities in Maryland. While the state must now move forward on the legalization and regulation of marijuana, we applaud Maryland legislators in taking action to end the 23,000 marijuana possession arrests occurring in the state every year.”
According to a 2013 ACLU report, Maryland possesses the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country. Maryland arrests over 23,000 individuals for simple marijuana possession every year, at the cost over of 100 million dollars.
NORML will keep you updated on the progress of this legislation.
This afternoon, “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013” was signed by the mayor after being approved by the city council in a 10 to 1 vote. This measure amends the punishment for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record).
“DC has the most egregious racially disparate marijuana arrests of any city in the country,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “This measure is a great first step in ending the devastation marijuana arrests have on the city’s communities and will allow law enforcement to better allocate their resources towards more dire crimes.”
NORML commends Councilman Tommy Wells on championing the measure through the city council.
“This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice. This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African Americans – arrest that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities,” Councilman Tommy Wells said about the bill signing.
Due to federal oversight of the District, this measure will not officially become law until it is received by the US Congress and undergoes a period of review. This review period is likely to extend into late summer, we will update you when it has been finalized. If Congress choses not to act to overturn the measure, it becomes DC law.
At a public signing ceremony today, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will approve House Bill 105 — aka “Charlee’s Law.” The law, and others like it, ostensibly allows children with treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy access to extracts of the marijuana plant high in the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD).
While some media outlets are reporting that the passage of these measures are akin to ‘approving medical marijuana,’ such claims are far from accurate.
Specifically, Utah’s HB 105 — which takes effect on July 1 — is largely unworkable. As written, the law only exempts from state prosecution those with “intractable epilepsy” who possess a cannabis extract that contains more than 15 percent CBD and no more than 0.3 percent THC. Patients must receive a written recommendation from a Utah board certified neurologist and be registered with the state Department of Health before seeking such extracts, which for the time being may only be procured from outside of the state. The extracts must be produced in a lab that possess a state-license to manufacture such products.
While this language may appear to allow Utah patients to procure CBD products in neighboring medical cannabis states like Colorado, the likelihood of this scenario is highly doubtful. Colorado’s medical marijuana law only allows those who are state residents and who possess a state-issued patient identification card to legally purchase such products. In other words, Utah parents would have to violate Colorado law to obtain high-CBD extracts (which are likely to only be available from a medical dispensary, not a retail cannabis market). Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries would also be in violation of not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law by providing a product they know is intended to be transported across state lines — a clear violation of the guidelines put forward in the August 2013 Department of Justice memo which call for “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal in some form to other states.”
Utah’s forthcoming law also calls on the state Department of Agriculture “to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of
agricultural or academic research,” ostensibly for the purpose of one-day producing high-CBD cannabis medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether such industrial crops can yield therapeutically effective CBD extracts or whether federal lawmakers would even allow such a state-sponsored research project to move forward.
In Alabama, members of the House and Senate unanimously approved CBD-specific legislation, Senate Bill 174 aka “Carley’s Laws,” late last week. Republican Gov. Robert Bently has announced his intent to sign the measure into law.
However, like the Utah law, Alabama’s forthcoming law will also be largely unworkable for those who seek to benefit from it. The measure appropriates $1 million dollars for University of Alabama-sponsored research in CBD extracts. Whether such research will actually take place is another story. Because CBD is, like the cannabis plant itself, classified under federal law as a schedule I controlled substance, multiple federal agencies — including the FDA, DEA, NIDA (US National Institute of Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service) must all sign off on any clinical investigation of the drug — a process that typically takes several years and often ends with federal regulators rejecting the protocol outright. Yet, under “Carley’s Law,” patients may only legally access CBD under if it is “prescribed” during the course of such a federally approved clinical trial.
Nevertheless, despite these obvious limitations in implementation, lawmakers in various other states — including Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Wisconsin — are considering passing similar measures. (A similar Georgia measure died when lawmakers adjourned late last week.) While the passage of these measures may pose symbolic victories for legislators, they fail to provide tangible benefits to the constituents that they are intended to serve.