ANNAPOLIS – After some discussion and two failed amendments, the Maryland Senate on Friday passed a bill decriminalizing the use or possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
The bill reclassifies possession of drug paraphernalia involving less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil charge.
Offenders can be given fines ranging from $100 to $500 depending on the number of violations. The law requires the issuance of citations; and a court appearance if the subject is younger than 21 years old or has committed three or more violations, requiring any further adjudication of those cases to be in district court.
The bill also creates a new criminal misdemeanor for smoking marijuana on public property.
Violators younger than 18 charged with possession of paraphernalia would be subject to juvenile court procedures and would be referred to a substance abuse education or rehabilitation program, under the bill.
A decrease in local revenues and state general funds are expected, according to an analysis accompanying the bill, and civil penalties would be allocated to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to fund drug treatment programs.
The bill, sponsored by Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, passed through both legislative bodies.
A companion bill, sponsored by Senator Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, on Friday evening was awaiting a vote in the House.
Senator Stephen Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline, was one of three to vote against the bill on Friday.
“I’m just not on board with all the marijuana bills yet,” Hershey, the minority whip, said. “From a federal standpoint, it’s still illegal.”
However, fellow Republican Senator Justin Ready, from Carroll, decided to vote for the bill.
“I feel like this is a great balanced approach,” Ready said. “I think if we legalize stuff, it sends a bad message that it’s OK (to smoke). With decriminalization, we’re bowing to the idea that this is not something we want to send people to jail for.”
The Maryland State Police Department, through a spokeswoman, said Friday they have no position on the legislation.
Much of the Senate discussion Wednesday centered on a floor amendment from Senator Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, proposing to decriminalize smoking marijuana in public places. The bill would still criminalize smoking in a vehicle.
The amendment ultimately died by a vote of 22-24.
Senator Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, also proposed an amendment that would limit police search rights in regards to marijuana. It was quickly shot down with a 3-44 vote.