Maryland House speaker to name group to look at ‘full spectrum’ of marijuana proposals


Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

With the aim of taking a broad look at a range of proposed legislation on marijuana usage, Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Wednesday that he plans to appoint a work group of a dozen delegates to recommend a path forward this session.

A flurry of bills have been introduced since the 90-day session began last month that would either legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana or reclassify its use as a civil offense, rather than a criminal offense, subject only to fines of $100 or less.

Lawmakers are also grappling with how to fix legislation passed last year that legalized distribution of marijuana for medical purposes through a limited number of academic medical centers. The scheme now appears unworkable because eligible institutions have been unwilling to participate.

“We want to fashion a work group to get as much information as we can on the full spectrum of ideas,” Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said in an interview.

He said it is likely that legislation will emerge on medical marijuana and unlikely that a bill will pass this session legalizing marijuana for recreational use, as Colorado and Washington state have done.

Busch said he expects robust debate on “decriminalization.”

“Whether it gains enough support to pass this year is still pretty iffy,” he said.

The use of a work group is the same tactic Busch used last year on another thorny issue, an overhaul of the state’s gun-control laws. He said Wednesday that he sees the marijuana work group as a “parallel” exercise.

Busch said he expects to draw delegates from three or four different standing committees in the House with jurisdiction over various aspects of the issue. He has not yet named a chairman of the group, Busch said.

The work group on guns drew criticism last year for holding some meetings in private, which Busch said allowed for more candid discussion outside the view of interest groups. He said he is not sure that will be necessary with marijuana.

In recent years, the House has been the more conservative chamber on reform of marijuana laws.

Last year, the Senate passed a bill that would have done away with jail time or other criminal sanctions for those who use or possess only small amounts of marijuana. That legislation died in the House.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has said he supports a system of legalization and taxation of marijuana but does not believe lawmakers are ready to embrace that approach yet.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who gained political prominence as a tough-on-crime mayor of Baltimore, opposes legalization.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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