Md. gubernatorial hopeful Mizeur introduces bill that would decriminalize marijuana


Maryland Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery). (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)

As a candidate for governor of Maryland, Democratic hopeful Heather R. Mizeur is pushing a plan to legalize marijuana. In her current job as a state delegate, she introduced legislation this week that doesn’t go quite that far.

Under the bill filed by Mizeur (D-Montgomery), those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana would still be sanctioned — but they would be subject to only a civil fine of $100 rather than criminal penalties. Those under 21 could also be sent to drug education classes.

Mizeur said in an interview Friday that she still strongly believes in legalization, noting that she has signed on as a co-sponsor to a colleague’s bill that seeks to do that. But realistically, Mizeur said, Maryland might be another election away from being ready to follow in the footsteps of Colorado.

Even so, “I feel like we have a great opportunity to get something done this session,” Mizeur said in explaining the rationalization behind her “decriminalization” bill. “We don’t need to wait another year to make sure people’s lives aren’t ruined with our failed prohibition policy.”

Mizeur’s bill currently has 40 co-sponsors, including two Republicans: Dels. Michael D. Smigiel (Cecil) and Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (Anne Arundel).

Others on board include House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) and two committee leaders: Del. Sheila E. Hixson (D-Montgomery), chairwoman of Ways and Means; and Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore), chairwoman of Environmental Matters.

A similar bill passed in the Senate last year and has been re-introduced this year by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).

Last month, at the outset of this year’s 90-day session, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said he was opposed to recreational use of marijuana, which he called “a gateway to even more harmful behavior.” O’Malley, who rose to political prominence as a tough-on-crime mayor of Baltimore, has been less definitive about his stand on decriminalization.

Mizeur said she remains hopeful that O’Malley will evolve on the issue, as he did with same-sex marriage in recent years. In 2012, O’Malley sponsored a bill legalizing gay nuptials after years of stating that he preferred civil unions as an alternative.

“Governor O’Malley wasn’t originally in favor of marriage equality, but he came around,” Mizeur said.

Her campaign for governor sent out an e-mail to supporters Friday seeking signatures from citizens in support of her decriminalization legislation.

The e-mail noted that the District is moving in that direction, as have 17 other states.

“Unfortunately, Maryland’s leadership continues to drag its feet,” Mizeur says in the e-mail.

Mizeur faces Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) in the June primary.

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