It’s not legal in Maryland – not yet. But most people who live there wish it were.
A new poll by the ACLU of Maryland finds 53 percent of residents support full legalization and regulation of marijuana in the state. Even more, 68 percent, back decriminalization that would leave the drug illegal but remove criminal penalties. And only a quarter of Marylanders oppose any loosening of the law.
“Our current marijuana prohibition policies are grossly ineffective,” Sara Love, public policy director for the Maryland ACLU, said in a statement. “It’s time to take a common-sense approach to public safety and criminal justice. We should not be wasting resources arresting people simply for possessing marijuana. . . . A majority of voters agree it is time for a change.”
Currently, possession of 10 grams or less of weed is a misdemeanor in Maryland, punishable by as many as 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. The penalties increase to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine for possession of between 10 grams and 50 pounds (without intent to distribute).
Maryland lawmakers have been struggling for some time to reform the state’s approach to marijuana. An attempt to decriminalize last year failed to make it past the Judiciary Committee in the State House of Delegates, though it did pass the full Senate. It would have lowered the penalty for simple possession to a $100 fine.
Another bill last year, which would have legalized marijuana completely, went nowhere.
Earlier this year, Maryland became the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana, a program that is currently being set up by state officials. And police are now allowed to issue tickets rather than making pot arrests.
Still, Maryland has been moving much slower on the issue than its public would seem to prefer. Nineteen other states have enacted medical marijuana laws, while two of those, Colorado and Washington, have legalized all pot. Seventeen states, meanwhile, have decriminalized weed.
Most of those states moved at a much faster pace than Maryland has. The state first adopted a medical marijuana defense law, which allowed defendants to plead medical necessity when charged with possession, in 2003, then waited 10 years before actually approving medical pot.
Gov. Martin O’Malley has appointed an 11-member Medical Marijuana Commission to create programs that will make cannabis available at academic medical centers. They aren’t expected to open until at least 2016.