Bipartisan Effort In Maryland Aims To Decriminalize Small Amounts Of Marijuana

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In addition to a proposed law to fully legalize marijuana, Maryland is contemplating a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts the drug.

On Wednesday, two state senators introduced a bipartisan decriminalization effort that would make the possession of under 10 grams of weed a civil offense. Currently in Maryland, someone caught with any amount of cannabis could be fined $500 and put behind bars for three months.

The new decriminalization bill, SB 364, would punish adult offenders with fines and force minors to attend substance abuse classes.

Bill co-author state Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard County) said he wants to free up law enforcement officers to pursue other crimes. "There's hours and hours of police time being spent in court," he told the Baltimore Sun.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who wrote the bill with Kittleman, failed to pass a similar law during last year's legislative session. But, as the Sun notes, this year's bill would force minors to appear in court. According to Zirkin, this will make offenders "realize the significance" of the offense.

Opponents of the bill argue that marijuana is addictive and that smoking weed often leads to experimentation with more dangerous drugs.

The bill's future is uncertain, however. Although Maryland's House Speaker has suggested he would favor such a measure, the state's Democratic governor, Martin O'Malley, who rose to power partly by waging a crusade against drug crime, has spoken out against loosening the state's weed laws.

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