Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession in the state, following the passage of the measure in Maryland's General Assembly.
Senate Bill 364 reduces the penalty for possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense. First-time offenders will face fines up to $100, while a second offense will be punishable with a fine up to $250 and subsequent offenses up to $500. Additionally, the bill requires third-time offenders or offenders under the age of 21 to be evaluated for substance abuse problems, and to attend drug education classes.
The state Senate gave final approval to the bill April 7 in a 34-8 vote, following a 78-55 vote in the House of Delegates last Saturday.
O'Malley has previously expressed his opposition to legalizing marijuana.
"I'm not much in favor of it," he said in January. "We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city."
Earlier this month, however, O'Malley indicated his support for the decriminalization bill, noting the "low priority" state officials already place on marijuana arrests:
Decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority our courts, prosecutors, & police attach to this issue.
— Martin O'Malley (@GovernorOMalley) April 7, 2014
In a statement, the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland praised lawmakers for the decriminalization bill's success, but called on legislators to take further steps toward marijuana prohibition.
"This measure will prevent tens of thousands of Marylanders from facing life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a less harmful substance than alcohol. But there is still more work to be done. Although it is a step in the right direction, this legislation will not do anything to eliminate the problems associated with relegating the sales of marijuana to the underground market," the statement read.
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