THE MARYLAND Senate’s vote to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana would not, as some critics warn, make it okay to use the drug. Such use would still be illegal, but it would be a civil offense, punishable by fines rather than imprisonment. Not only would this save law enforcement valuable resources but also prevent the lives of many young people from being ruined. We hope the House of Delegates follows the Senate’s lead and that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signs this sensible measure into law.
The billpassed the Senate on a 30 to 16 vote Tuesday. People now caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana, about one-third of an ounce, may face up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $500; the Senate proposal would eliminate any jail time and provide for a fine up to $100. The reduction from a criminal misdemeanor is aimed at recreational users of marijuana, not those who traffic in illegal drug sales. The lopsided, bipartisan vote in favor of the change is a reflection of the changing attitudes about marijuana and the unintended costs of strict anti-pot laws. More than a dozen states have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession, and some have gone so far as to legalize the drug for various uses. Bills that would have Maryland join states such as Colorado and Washington in legalizing the drug for various uses are also pending in Annapolis, but they are unlikely to advance because of justifiable concerns about being at odds with federal law.