A legislator who said he has "never smoked a cigarette or a weed and I'm somewhat of a teetotaler" today urged his colleagues to authorize a study of whether Maryland should become the first state to fully legalize marijuana.
Del. Charles A. Docter (D-Montgomery) said that "keeping laws on the books that are not prosecuted, or are prosecuted unevenly, decreases the respect for law and order." Docter said "kids disrespect" marijuana laws much the way their grandparents ignored the prohibition of alcohol.
"A hypocrisy has set in," said Docter, citing reports that marijuana "may not be as bad as alcohol." He said its popularity is increasing and more and more young people through their 30s are becoming "regular instead of occasional users." He noted that President Ford's son has admitted smoking it and one of President Carter's sons was "busted out of the Navy for using it."
Docter's resolution calls for a nine-member task force to study the "legalization, control and distribution" of marijuana. It met with criticism within the House Judiciary Committee today, although all of the cityzen witnesses favored it.
Docter said he is "not necessarily" in favor of legalizing the use of marijuana but he believes the task force should study that possiblity. "We should move, but carefully" in that direction, Docter said.
A second measure, sponsored by Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III (D-Baltimore), would decriminalize the use of marijuana by permitting persons cited for possession of one ounce or less to post collateral of no more than $100. Similar to parking tickets, additional offenses would be treated the same way.
Eight states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, but Docter said reducing the penalty is a "copout" that doesn't solve the problem of forcing users to deal with criminal pushers. It also does not permit states to set minimum standards of quality and a minimum age for users, both of which Docter favors.
Del. Steven V. Sklar (D-Baltimore) said he opposes legalization or decriminalization, noting that the pressure for change is coming from people who have abused the law, "These kids have been violating the law from the beginning. Where is the respect?" Sklar asked.
State's Attorney Andrew Sonner of Montgomery County testified that existing laws are enforced unevenly. "Many police officers confiscate the stuff but release the person," said Sonner, who has instructed his staff not to prosecute persons arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana for their own use.
Before adopting that policy, Sonner said the "universal result" of defendants who appeared in Montgomery County courts was that they were placed on probation and their criminal records later expunged.