Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Heather Mizeur to propose legalization of marijuana

Maryland Del. Heather R. Mizeur, left, introduced her running mate, Delman Coates, at an event last week. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Heather R. Mizeur on Tuesday will propose legalizing marijuana and using the tax revenue it generates to fund pre-kindergarten education, according to an advance copy of her plan.

Mizeur, a Montgomery County delegate who faces Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in next year’s Democratic primary, proposes that Maryland regulate marijuana much like it does alcohol. She estimates that taxing the drug could yield up to $157.5 million in new revenue for the state each year.

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Adults ages 21 and over would be permitted to possess up to an ounce of marijuana without violating state law under Mizeur’s plan, a copy of which was shared with The Washington Post. Smoking marijuana would not be allowed in public, and it would be illegal to drive under the influence.

“Marijuana’s time as a controlled, illegal substance has run its course,” Mizeur says in her plan. “Marijuana laws ruin lives, are enforced with racial bias and distract law enforcement from serious and violent crimes. … A Maryland with legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana will mean safer communities, universal early childhood education and fewer citizens unnecessarily exposed to our criminal justice system.”

Mizeur’s position comes as Maryland and other states are rethinking their posture on the criminalization of marijuana — though Maryland lawmakers have not yet shown a willingness to contemplate a plan as far-reaching as Mizeur proposes.

Last November, voters in Washington state and Colorado approved initiatives to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for those 21 and older. In her plan, Mizeur points to those states as models.

During this year’s legislative session, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill authorizing distribution of marijuana for medical purposes by qualified academic centers. Legislative analysts have said it is unlikely the drug would be legally dispensed before 2016, and it remains unclear how many institutions will participate.

A separate bill passed the Senate this year that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, subjecting those caught to only a civil fine of up to $100. That legislation died in the House of Delegates, however.

Mizeur’s two better-known Democratic opponents reacted cautiously to word of her plan.

“The attorney general recognizes that public sentiment is slowly shifting toward limited, prescribed medicinal use of marijuana and, in some states, even toward decriminalization of marijuana,” said Gansler campaign spokesman Bob Wheelock. “There does not appear to be a groundswell toward full scale legalization here in Maryland, nor does the attorney general feel that unrestrained legalization would be appropriate.”

Justin Schall, Brown’s campaign manager, said Brown “welcomes a continued discussion and analysis on how decriminalizing negligible amounts of marijuana would impact the ability of our law enforcement agencies to focus on more violent crimes and criminals.”

A Goucher poll released this month found that 51 percent of Marylanders support making marijuana use legal in the state, while 40 percent oppose legalization.

When presented with a list of consequences for possessing small amounts of marijuana, 49 percent of residents supported policies that focus on fines, while 34 percent said they favor rehabilitation. Only 6 percent said they prefer measures that focus on jail time.

Under Mizeur’s plan for legalization, marijuana would be subject to an excise tax of $50 per ounce at the point of sale between cultivators and retailers. There would also be a 6 percent sales tax and 2 percent excise tax at the point of sale.

Mizeur estimates that the annual revenue generated could provide 23,675 children with a full day of pre-kindergarten.

Last month, Mizeur laid out a phased-in plan that would offer full-day pre-K programs to 4-year-olds across the state. She would also ensure half-day programs are eventually available to all 3-year-olds in lower-income families.

 
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