Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed two major marijuana bills into law April 14.
The first, Senate Bill 364, decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of weed. Instead of a misdemeanor charge and up to 90 days in jail, people caught with 10 grams of pot or less will pay a small civil fine.
The fine starts at $100 for a first offense, increases to $250 for a second offense, and finally to $500 for subsequent offenses. Three-time offenders and those under the age of 21 will be required to submit to a clinical substance-abuse assessment and a drug education program.
“By signing this bill we’re taking an important step towards making our justice system more fair and ensuring all of our young people have the same opportunity for a brighter future,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said in a statement. “The decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana will free up resources to fight violent crime throughout our state. We’ll also be able to fund additional substance abuse treatment, drug prevention and job training efforts, and education to teach our young people about the dangers of drug use.”
Maryland is the 16th state to decriminalize possession of marijuana. Another two states have outright legalized it, while 25 have adopted some form of medical cannabis.
The Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland praised O’Malley for signing the bill.
“We applaud Gov. O’Malley and state lawmakers for their leadership on this important issue,” the group said in a statement. “There is no excuse for criminalizing people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. For years, legislators have been coming up with excuses, but this time they came up with a solution.”
Lawmakers forgot to deal with one important aspect of marijuana law: Possession of paraphernalia is still a crime. It’s unclear how or whether the legislature will address that discrepancy.
O’Malley signed another bill April 14, House Bill 881. Though Maryland already had medical marijuana in theory, it wasn’t operational. This bill provided new protections for patients with severe pain, nausea, wasting, seizures, and muscle spasms.
The law also provides for the dispensaries and access to the drug that have been lacking. Patients will have to obtain both doctors’ recommendations and ID cards from the state.
“Maryland’s medical marijuana law will at long last provide patients with needed protection from arrest and prosecution, and give them a means to safely and legally obtain medical marijuana,” said Mike Liszewski, policy director with Americans for Safe Access.