DC
03/19/2013 05:12 pm ET

Maryland Senate Passes Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana

AP

Marylanders caught with marijuana may soon face a small fine instead of time behind bars.

The Maryland Senate voted in favor of a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana on Tuesday.

On a bipartisan vote of 30-16, the Senate approved legislation that makes possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense, subject to the maximum penalty of a $100 fine, according to the Capital Gazette. Laws currently on the books for a such a possession invokes a maximum penalty of $500 and 90 days in prison.

If the bill becomes law, Maryland would join a growing number of states that are enacting more lax marijuana laws, including Colorado and Washington state, where voters chose to legalize marijuana on ballot referendums in 2012.

The sponsor of the bill, State Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), said that the law was needed in order to avoid overspending on charging individuals with possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"It is a tremendous waste of resources," Zirkin said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

According to State Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard and Carroll), a co-sponsor of the bill, police made around "47,000 arrests" related to marijuana possession in the state last year.

The Capital Gazette reports that State Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) has personal reasons for her vote:

Jacobs voted for the bill in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and voted for it again on Tuesday. She did so because she said her husband has cancer and under Maryland law, she would face only a civil citation if she chose to buy "about two joints" to ease his pain.

"I think it's really important to people with family members who might have cancer to be able to do this," Jacobs told the Senate.

Those state senators worried that passage of the bill would be a means to legalize marijuana in the state say send the question to the people.

"If your ultimate goal is to get marijuana legalized, do a referendum bill," State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil) reportedly said on the Senate floor.

The bill now goes to the House where it has its detractors.

"We have a challenge over on the other side from what I understand," Zirkin told the Associated Press.

The Maryland House Judiciary Committee is set to hold hearing on a bill to legalize marijuana and tax and regulate it like alcohol for those 21 and older.

The sponsor of the bill, State Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City), says that opposition to his own bill may actually help pass the decriminalization law in the House, or at least can help stir conversation on the issue.

"I think that the more people hear this, the more the conversation will occur," said Anderson, who in 2011 filed his own marijuana decriminalization bill that failed to get out of committee.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has not said whether or not he would support a bill to decriminalize marijuana, but earlier this month the administration announced it was withdrawing its opposition to medical marijuana, the first time the O'Malley administration has supported making marijuana more accessible.

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