Md. governor signs marijuana bills into law

Bruce Leshan, WUSA-9

On Monday, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed two marijuana related bills into law.

SB 364 decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill will make possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program.

Senators Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Allan Kittleman (R-Howard) were lead sponsors of the bill.

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown released the following statement on the signing:

"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. 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."

The Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland also praised O'Malley for signing the bill:

"We applaud Gov. O'Malley and state lawmakers for their leadership on this important issue. 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.

"Maryland can no longer sustain the costs associated with outdated marijuana prohibition policies. The community has known this for quite some time, and we are pleased to see our elected representatives are doing something about it. Political opinions are finally catching up with public opinion.

"We expect this issue will be taken up again next spring, and we are hopeful legislators will be ready to explore more comprehensive reform. Until marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, sales will remain uncontrolled and revenues will benefit criminal enterprises instead of legitimate, taxpaying businesses."

Others opposed the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The Maryland State's Attorneys Association urged Gov. Martin O'Malley to veto the bill. The group's president wrote a letter to the governor, saying that the bill contains flaws that could reduce public safety. Among the concerns is that the bill should have maintained criminal penalties for possessing marijuana on school property and that the bill gives police no direction on what constitutes probable cause for a search.

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 125-11 last week to adopt HB 881. The bill protects patients with severe pain, nausea, wasting syndrome, seizures, and severe muscle spasms from arrest and prosecution. Under the law, patients will

get medicine from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. They will also have to get approval from doctors who are approved by the state, and have an identification card before they can access a licensed dispensary.

Several groups are praising O'Malley for signing the bill.

"We're excited to welcome Maryland as the 21st medical marijuana state," said Mike Liszewski, Policy Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), in a press release on Monday afternoon. "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."