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Maryland House of Delegates approves bill decriminalizing marijuana

Pot smokers in Baltimore can go ahead and exhale.

Maryland moved closer to becoming the 18th state to decriminalize marijuana this weekend.
Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

On Saturday night, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the Old Line state. By a vote of 78-55, House Delegates approved a bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for less than 10 grams of marijuana. The bill now heads back to the Senate, who passed their version of it last month, for final approval.

“We’re very excited this happened,” said Rachelle Yeung of the Marijuana Policy Project, according to WJZ Baltimore. “We did not think we would be able to pull it out in the last couple of days of the session. We just didn’t give up.”

WBAL reports that under the new law, first-time offenders found with less than 10 grams of marijuana would be subject to a $100 fine, which would increase to $250 dollars on the second offense, and $500 on the third. The House bill also “mandates drug treatment and education for offenders under age 21.” Currently, those convicted of possession of less than 10 grams of the drug could face up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

"We are sending a message we aren't going to allow small amounts of marijuana possession to ruin the lives of young people," Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell, (D) Baltimore, said according to The Baltimore Sun. A criminal conviction of even small amounts of the drug can adversely affect a person’s job prospects, decriminalization advocates argue. Other studies have pointed to racial disparities when it comes to sentencing, with African Americans more likely to receive prison time for possession than whites.

Should the Senate approve the new version of the legislation as expected, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Martin O’Malley for approval. However, O’Malley’s signature is not a sure thing. According to the Washington Post, the former Mayor of Baltimore has referred to marijuana as “a gateway to even more harmful behavior.” Nevertheless, his office promised to keep an open mind when reviewing the proposed law.

The decriminalization bill isn’t the only marijuana-related topic the state legislature is expected to take up today, the last day of their legislative session. After approving medical marijuana last year, they'll debate a new bill that would “allow patients to get a prescription from specially licensed physicians and then fill it at dispensaries across the state,” The Sun reports, instead of at academic centers, who have declined to participate in the program. That bill is expected to pass as well.

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