Co-sponsored by state Sens. Bobby Zirkin (D) and Allan Kittleman (R), Senate Bill 364 seeks to re-classify the possession or use of less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine.
Maryland law currently ranks the possession of limited amounts of marijuana as a misdemeanor subject to no more than 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Advocates for decriminalization argue that SB 364 frees up legal resources for more serious crimes and eliminates the disproportionate arrest rates among African-Americans and whites, despite comparable usage rates.
“Just walk into the District Court any day of the week and you’ll see rows of police officers sitting there,” Zirkin said, according to the Capital News Service. “It’s just a huge waste money.”
State Sen. James Brochin (D), who was initially undecided on the issue, ultimately voted in favor of the bill.
“This [bill] is like reigning in the police a little bit and saying, ‘You know what, it’s just a simple citation,” Brochin explained. “You can give all the lectures you want, and they probably deserve a lecture, but at the end of the day you’re not invoking terror on these kids.’”
Dr. Nancy Rosen-Cohen, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Maryland and an SB 364 advocate, highlighted marijuana criminalization’s long-term consequences in a press release Friday.
"Branding someone a criminal for possessing marijuana causes a lifetime of harm,” Rosen-Cohen said. “A criminal record of any kind becomes a barrier to employment and housing, which hurts both the individual and whole families."
A 2013 poll by the American Civil Liberties Union and the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project found that 53 percent of Maryland voters approved of the legalization of marijuana for adults, while 38 percent opposed the reform. A larger majority of Maryland voters, 68 percent, expressed support for amending state marijuana laws as proposed in SB 364, according to a September 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling.
The measure now heads to the state Senate for a full vote. A similar proposal with the Senate’s backing failed to garner enough support in the state House last year.