A full two dozen states have decriminalized marijuana or sanctioned its use for medical purposes. Going one step further, Washington and Colorado have taken to fully legalizing marijuana and using the tax proceeds to finance state initiatives.
Maryland Decriminalizes Marijuana
Maryland’s Democratic Governor, Martin O’Malley, promised at the beginning of April 2014 that he would ratify a bill decriminalizing marijuana.
The bill, which was approved by Maryland’s Senate (34-8), would resort to civil fines in lieu of criminal measures against those possessing less than 10 grams of cannabis.
The decriminalization bill passed the Maryland House less convincingly (78-55) than it did the Senate. Nonetheless, many in the legislature and judicial system in Maryland contend that marijuana holds a lower priority for the state prison system and overall public welfare.
What does Decriminalization Mean?
Starting October 1, possessing ten grams or less of marijuana in Maryland will be treated by law enforcement much like tickets or traffic citations. If found guilty of possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana, offenders can choose to either pay a small fine or ask for a trial in Maryland’s district court.
The final bill punishes repeat offenses more seriously than first-time ones. If initially caught with 10 grams or less of cannabis, you can expect to pay a $100 fine. For second and third offenses the fines escalate from $100 to $250 (second offense) and $500 (third offense).
Under 21 or Repeat Offender
If a person under 21 years old is caught possessing small amounts of marijuana, s/he will be forced to appear before a court. Also, for those with three offenses to their name, a court appearance is also compulsory.
In other words, the new Maryland bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession stays tough on those under 21 years of age caught with marijuana as well as repeat offenders, especially third-time offenders.
In most cases of possession of small amounts of marijuana, a civil fine replaces an arrest and jail time or a blotch on your criminal record.
Larger Context for Decriminalization
Maryland, under the governorship of Martin O’Malley, became the seventeenth state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
As a matter of economy in the judicial system and foresight by prosecutors, relative few marijuana users in Maryland have historically seen prison time. This bill, according to the governor, is an extension of that ideology.
Another impetus for signing into law a bill that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana is Maryland’s record on violent crime. Over the last thirty years Maryland has demonstrated very low violent crime rates; law enforcement does not wants its attention diverted from serious, violent crime to less serious matters like modest marijuana use.
Still, in Maryland distributing or selling marijuana can be met with jail time. Some Republicans in Maryland’s legislature are still grumbling about the disparity between possibly giving distributors five-year felony sentences and possessors of small amounts of marijuana a modest civil fine.
Nonetheless, Maryland’s legislature is increasingly mirroring nationwide trends – three-fourths of Americans believe marijuana will eventually be legalized federally whereas a clear majority now supports the trend toward nationwide decriminalization.