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Md. Senate votes to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana

The Maryland Senate voted 30 to 16 on Tuesday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, subjecting those caught to only a civil fine of up to $100.

Supporters of the bill said the move is consistent with a growing number of states that have sought in recent years to do away with jail time for minor offenders. But Maryland’s bill doesn’t go far as measures in Colorado and Washington that have legalized marijuana.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), the bill’s sponsor, said the Maryland legislation would affect “a small-time possessor” caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana, the equivalent of two joints.

“Incarceration does not make sense for those individuals,” Zirkin said.

Under current law, such offenders face up to 90 days behind bars, along with a fine of up to $500.

Opponents of Zirkin’s bill said it sends the wrong message and questioned why the state would create a more lenient punishment for marijuana users than for underage drinkers, who face a penalty of $500.

The bill goes next to the House of Delegates, where some key members have expressed skepticism about whether it makes sense.

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

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