The Libertarian Party of Maryland has joined with the ACLU of Maryland, MPP, LEAP, SSDP, Maryland NORML, the NAACP (of Maryland), the League of Women Voters of Maryland, and many other organizations to advocate for ending the prohibition of marijuana possession by adults. The coalition’s website can be found at http://www.marijuanapolicyinmd.org.
The coalition supports the decriminalization of marijuana possession by adults and the full implementation of Maryland’s medical marijuana program that passed in 2013. The coalition is actively supporting the passage of three forms of legislation in the current session of Maryland’s General Assembly. While no legislation is perfect, this effort represents a necessary and welcome incremental advancement towards greater personal liberty for Maryland’s citizens.
A partial legalization/substantial decriminalization, taxation and regulation proposal is found in two companion bills (the Marijuana Control Act of 2014 in the House (HB 0880) and the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act in the Senate (SB 0658)). If these bills are passed, those 21 and older could legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana, up to five grams of hash, 16 ounces of marijuana infused in solid form, or 72 ounces of marijuana infused in liquid form. They could grow up to 6 plants (though only 3 can be mature) on their private property (or another’s property, with the consent of the owner) and possess the marijuana derived from those plants. The bills legalize the possession, production and sale of marijuana paraphernalia. The bills also legalize and regulate four types of marijuana businesses: retailers; cultivation facilities; manufacturers; and compliance labs.
Under these bills, people would not be able to drive while under the influence, give pot to kids, smoke on the job (unless allowed by the employer), or smoke pot in public (up to a $100 fine for the latter). Those who were convicted of prior marijuana possession offenses which would not have been offenses if this bill had been in effect would have their convictions (and the records thereof) expunged automatically, as a matter of law.
While the proposed licensing scheme in these bills has the potential to create the same problems we face with alcoholic beverage licensing (intervention and cronyism impacts on markets, unnecessarily high licensing fees that advantage the wealthy over the poor in market participation, an overly broad delegation of regulatory authority, and commercial speech restrictions), ending the criminalization of possession and growing for personal use is far preferable to the status quo of absolute prohibition. While the bills include a tax of $50/ounce for flowers and $10/ounce for leaves at the wholesale level (adjusted for inflation/deflation), the first $5 million in tax revenue (which is estimated to reach $93 million in the first year) would go towards drug and alcohol treatment and education. That is a reasonable accommodation to mitigate one of the impacts of the government’s current prohibition policy, which limits honest and fact-based communications about marijuana use and abuse, inhibits access to treatment and discourages responsible behavior.
A more detailed summary of the Marijuana Control Act of 2014 was prepared by the Marijuana Policy Project and can be found at http://www.mpp.org/states/maryland/MDT-RBillSummary-2014-final.pdf Both of these bills have had their hearings in their respective House and Senate committees. Now we need to urge their passage.
Another bill is a simplified decriminalization bill, SB 364, which would replace criminal penalties (including jail time) with a civil fine of up to $100 for possession of up to 10 grams. Those receiving their third citation will summoned to a trial to determine if they should undergo court ordered drug and alcohol counseling. The civil fines will not be public records. This bill received a favorable recommendation of the Senate Judiciary Committee (8-3 vote) on March 7 and was approved by the full Senate by a 36-8 margin. It is now before the House Judiciary Committee, which has set a hearing for April 1.
Finally, SB 923 overhauls and attempts to make functional the previously established medical marijuana system in Maryland. The bill establishes a complex regulatory scheme for the prescription of medical marijuana to patients. The medical marijuana bill may be the most likely to pass and signed into law. SB 923 was reported out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee on a 10-1 vote (after significant amendments) and yesterday (March 27) it was passed by the Senate on a 45-1 vote. It is now before the Health and Government Operations Committee of the House. A previous House bill had been passed, but there are significant differences between the bills which will need to be reconciled.
The Libertarian Party has supported the legalization of marijuana since its founding in 1971. The overwhelming evidence supports the conclusion that the war on drugs has been a colossal failure, eclipsing the damage caused by alcohol prohibition of the early twentieth century. Maryland has one of the highest rates of marijuana possession arrests in the nation. The ACLU of Maryland has demonstrated significant racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests in their report, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White. Let us try a different approach. Let’s get these bills passed and move beyond prohibition. The organizations of the Maryland Policy Coalition of Maryland will all do their part, in different ways. Libertarians must also step up and act on their convictions. Please consider calling your representative’s office and urging support for these bills, or using the coalition’s resources at at http://www.marijuanapolicyinmd.org/bills-we-support to contact your representatives. You can use their template to send an email to your representative or add your own arguments in favor of the legislation.
Now, while these bills are being considered by our elected representatives, is the time to reach out and build political momentum in favor of ending prohibition. We may not succeed in getting all the bills passed in this session of the General Assembly, but strong advocacy now can become a stepping stone for future progress.