On Monday, the Maryland Senate voted overwhelmingly to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, following in the footsteps of 24 other states, including the District of Columbia.
The decision comes in the wake of the D.C. Council’s March 4 10-1 vote overwhelmingly in favor of the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for individuals over the age of 21. The bill, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in coming weeks, would decriminalize possession and private use of marijuana less than one ounce.
In a 34-8 ruling, the Maryland Senate ruled that individuals caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana would face only civil, not criminal, sanctions. The Senate measure was sponsored by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Democrat from Baltimore County and received the support of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,” O’Malley said in a statement released Monday. “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.”
Under the new legislation, a first offense would merit a $100 fine and would not require a court appearance, with an escalating scale thereafter. For individuals between the ages of 18-20 caught with the drug, a first violation would require a court appearance and possible drug education course thereafter.
Robert Locke, a junior at Johns Hopkins University, agreed with the decision and its potential to turn resources toward more violent crimes.
“I agree with the legislation — law enforcement will be able to better focus their attention on more pressing issues, especially in Baltimore where crime rates are high,” Locke said.
However, Adam Grudnan, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, did not foresee decriminalization changing the drug culture or use on his university’s campus.
“Honestly, I don’t think decriminalization will do anything at all,” Grudnan told The Hoya. “I think a lot less people will get in trouble [for possession] but it won’t really change the amount of people using it.”