While legalizing medical marijuana may still be in the distant future for the state of Maryland, the Democrat-controlled state senate ensured that criminal charges could not be brought on residents of their state for public use of marijuana or possession of marijuana paraphenelia. While possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana was decriminalized in 2014 while presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was governor, those who supported this bill said it was “really a correction to what we did a couple of years ago” when these specific applications were overlooked.
This is just the latest in an on-going battle among the state’s legislators to settle on a position of what has become a sometimes very popular, sometimes very controversial political issue. Former governor O’Malley, along with many others in the United States, has a position on marijuana legalization that has become more liberal over the last few years. In 2012, when the issue of medicinal marijuana was raised among the Maryland legislature, the Daily Caller reports that Governor O’Malley advised he would veto a bill that would legalize medical cannabis.
Last year, however, Martin met with those heavily involved in the medical marijuana industry in Colorado. While he maintained that he was “not much in favor” of marijuana legalization, he did sign legislation that decriminalized small amounts of medical marijuana for qualified patients. Noting the problem that Maryland was dealing with related to drug addiction, O’Malley believed that pot “and its use and its abuse can be a gateway to even more harmful behavior.” As a presidential candidate, his views on marijuana legalization are similar to those of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Democratic-socialist candidate Bernie Sanders is in favor of ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, leaving it completely up to individual states to decide.
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Current Maryland Governor, Republican Larry Hogan, is not giving the Maryland Senate any more support on marijuana legalization than Martin O’Malley. However, as the CBS local affiliate in Baltimore reported, both the Senate and the House have Democratic majorities in Maryland, and they have the necessary three-fifths majority to overturn the Governor’s veto on marijuana decriminalization. Maryland’s General Assembly overturned a total of five Hogan vetoes, including one that would have blocked $2 million going to an arts facility.
When the veto was overturned on Thursday, the Governor’s office released a statement.
“With these votes taken, we are at least hopeful that members of the General Assembly can now partner with the governor to move Maryland forward, instead of dwelling on last year’s issues.”
Now that the veto has been overturned, smoking marijuana in public in Maryland is punishable by a fine of up to $500. But, overturning the governor’s veto didn’t come without arguments from both sides. Some of the arguments heard from the Maryland delegates were very unique. In a metaphor that likely wouldn’t connect with many residents outside of the state, supporter of the bill Anne Kaiser compared the marijuana issues to a Maryland culinary treat: blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning.
“Imagine that they were both illegal, and suddenly we allowed people to eat Maryland blue crabs, but we still kept the Old Bay illegal. It would be inconceivable.”
A $500 fine for public use of marijuana would actually be less strict than punishment for public consumption of alcohol in Maryland. This prompted opponent of the bill Herb McMillan to use an 80s pot-culture reference. In his argument, “Bubba” represents any Maryland resident who happens to get busted drinking a beer in the street.
“If this veto override is not sustained, then you’re going to have a situation where Bubba can go to jail, and Jeff Spicoli can take the piece of paper he was given by the police officer, make a doobie out of it and smoke it.”
Jeff Spicoli is the stereotypical pot smoker portrayed by Sean Penn in the 1982 cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The changes to Maryland’s marijuana laws will go into effect next month.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]