ANNAPOLIS – Three bills regarding the use and regulation of marijuana in Maryland received hearings in front of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday, including the Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015. The committee heard the bills in a group together and testimonies poured in from individuals and groups supporting and opposing the bills. […]
ANNAPOLIS – Three bills regarding the use and regulation of marijuana in Maryland received hearings in front of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday, including the Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015.
The committee heard the bills in a group together and testimonies poured in from individuals and groups supporting and opposing the bills.
The Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015, SB 531, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20), legalize, under regulated circumstances, the use, possession and sale of marijuana.
“Last year, the Maryland General Assembly shocked everybody by decriminalizing marijuana,” Raskin said at the hearing. “It was said that it couldn’t happen, that it was too controversial, that the issue was too complex.”
Raskin said while the state has decriminalized possession and small amounts of the drug, the problem still exists that drug dealers are still in business.
Senate Bill 517, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, deals with the use and possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. The bill would eliminate criminal penalty for any possession of marijuana paraphernalia found on a person but cracks down on citizens smoking marijuana while driving or in a public setting.
Sens. Zirkin and Raskin jointly sponsored Senate Bill 456, which deals with medical marijuana. Bill 456 would require a court to dismiss any criminal charges for people charged with possession who need it for a medical purpose.
If legalized, the law would exempt people who are 21 and older from civil and criminal penalties who possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The bill also states the permission to cultivate “six or fewer plants, no more than three of which can be mature, flowering plants.”
The bill states the legal regulations in which one may possess or obtain marijuana is limited to “one ounce or less of marijuana;” “five grams or less of hashish;” “16 ounces of marijuana products,” such as edible marijuana-infused products; or “72 ounces of marijuana in liquid form.”
The bill states the law would not make it legal to use the drug while operating a vehicle or to use in a public setting.
Raskin said the decriminalization bill that passed in the 2014 legislative session helped prevent thousands of people from being incarcerated for the offense, but this current bill to legalize the drug would make it safer. Citizens would not be able to obtain marijuana from drug dealers and the bill would help regulate the drug, ensuring it is a safe product kept away from children.
“We’ve decriminalized marijuana, now it’s time to put the drug dealers out of business to regulate it lawfully,” he said.
Senate Bill 517 would address using marijuana in public spaces and in vehicles, increasing the fines if one is caught doing so to $1,000.
Some other senators challenged the bill sponsors, wondering what would stop people of age from obtaining marijuana and passing it along to underage people.
Rachelle Young, a legislative analyst with the Maryland Policy Project, testified at the hearing in support of the bills. She noted the tax revenue and local economy effects that Colorado has seen since its legalization, adding that Maryland could see a similar effect.
“We do understand the need to deter public use as it can be a nuisance to others, however … it suggests a fine of up to $1,000, which can be very hefty,” she said.
Police Chief David Morris of Riverdale Park, representing the Maryland Chiefs of Police, testified in opposition to all three bills. But Morris said he is in support of education to teach people the effects of marijuana to work to decrease the dangers associated with it, such as the possibility of it becoming a gateway drug, leading to the use of more dangerous substances.
A panel of advocates, including Christine Miller, the director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana in Maryland, testified against SB 531. Miller and other advocates opposed the bill because they anticipate increases in marijuana use by children if the drug becomes legalized.
“Please vote against the bill,” Miller said. “This is not a safe drug, I don’t care if it’s not a gateway drug; it is dangerous all by itself.”
Retired State Police Captain Leigh Maddox Maryland also spoke out in support of the legalization bill, which she said could remove the dangers and violence that come with drug cartels in the distribution of marijuana.
“Legalize, regulate, tax, control,” she said. “Card our kids, and make it totally uncool.”
Several other members testified in support of and opposition to the bills, taking up more than two hours of the hearing that day. Testimonies also brought up the health disparity between those who use the drug versus health implications as a result of being incarcerated, as well as how law enforcement would monitor people who possess the drug.
If passed, all three bills would take effect on Oct. 1, 2015.