The Washington Post

Long-serving Maryland Senate president says he supports legalization of marijuana

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The move to legalize marijuana in Maryland has a powerful ally: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Miller (D-Calvert), who has presided over his chamber for more than a quarter century, said in an interview Friday that he would support legislation allowing the regulated sale of marijuana, similar to what is now taking place in Colorado.

“I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions,” Miller said, adding that he thinks his position will only grow in popularity in coming years. “I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now.”

Miller was less confident, however, at the prospect of a bill passing in the 90-day legislative session that starts next week.

While he said a legalization bill would stand a good chance in the Senate, he thinks the odds are much longer in the House and said that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — who rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime mayor of Baltimore — is “always slow on issues like this.”

“Quite frankly, I don’t see it passing,” said Miller, who has a relatively conservative record on social issues. In recent years, he opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage and repeal of the death penalty.

Last year, the Senate voted 30 to 16 for a bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, subjecting those caught to only a civil fine of up to $100.

That measure died in the House.

Lawmakers instead passed a bill that legalizes marijuana for medical purposes but limits distribution to a small number of qualified academic medical centers. That program has yet to launch.

In a separate interview later Friday, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he believes the state should wait to see how things play out in Colorado before seriously considering expanding the legal availability of marijuana in Maryland.

“The whole idea of transitioning into a recreational use of marijuana, I think, needs quite a bit more discussion and debate and understanding of what the practical implications would be,” Busch said.

It’s certain there will be some robust debate this year over legalizing pot in the Free State.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is running for governor, has proposed legalizing marijuana and using the tax revenue it generates to fund pre-kindergarten education.

Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore), meanwhile, told WBAL-TV this week that he plans to push for a bill again this year in the House of Delegates.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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