Maryland decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana

(The Baltimore Sun)

Maryland governor Martin O’Malley signed legislation that will decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and revamp the state’s stalled medical marijuana program. Mothers of children with conditions that could be aided by the drug filed into the governor’s reception room to watch O’Malley sign the law, which creates a new program to grow and distribute marijuana for medicinal use. The “mommy lobby” played a key role in persuading lawmakers to jump-start a medical marijuana program that never got off the ground.

Under another law, it will no longer be a state crime to possess less than 10 grams of marijuana, making the offense similar to getting a traffic ticket. Advocates argued that although people smoke marijuana at roughly the same rates, African-Americans are far more likely to get prosecuted and get a criminal record that can threaten future job prospects and student loans.

“We leveled the playing field,” said Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat who worked to help pass the law. The decriminalization bill and Jake’s Law, like many signed Monday, take effect Oct. 1. Some others take effect July 1.

Maryland’s association of state’s attorneys voted last week to ask O’Malley not to sign the decriminalization bill, but the governor said Monday he thinks minor possession charges are ineffective because they take police off the street for crimes that judges consider unworthy of jail time.

“The fact of the matter was that very few people, if any, get time for smoking marijuana,” O’Malley said. He added that with the citations in place, “fewer people have to go through a full-blown arrest,” which makes it easier for officers to stay on the streets pursuing other crimes.

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