Key Senate Committee Approves Bill That Would Decriminalize Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana
Cannabis progress is coming on two fronts at once in Maryland.
Lawmakers on Thursday scheduled a hearing on the first-ever bill to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older in the state and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed like alcohol. Just hours later, a key Senate committee approved a separate bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
HB 1453, the bill sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City) to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol, was scheduled for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 19. It would make private possession and home-growing of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older; direct the Maryland Comptroller to license marijuana retail stores, wholesale facilities, and testing facilities; enact an excise tax of $50 per ounce on wholesale sales (in addition to standard sales taxes); allow localities to regulate marijuana businesses; and direct the Department of Agriculture to regulate the legal cultivation of industrial hemp. It would remain illegal to use marijuana in public or drive under the influence of marijuana.
“Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmful than alcohol for the consumer and the surrounding community,” said Dan Riffle, a former prosecutor now serving as deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “It is less toxic, less addictive, and, unlike alcohol, does not contribute to violent crimes and reckless behavior.”
Separately, SB 297, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), was approved Thursday evening by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and will now be considered by the full 47-member Senate.
It would make the penalties for possession of less than10 grams of marijuana (approximately one-third of an ounce) a civil offense punishable by up to a $100 fine with no time in jail. That’s a significant improvement over current law, which treats possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana as punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail.