Bill that would raise marijuana decriminalization limit to 1 ounce advances

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Photo by Sam Sutch, via Wikimedia Commons

The Maryland Senate last night passed a bill that would raise the civil fine limit for marijuana from 10 grams to one ounce, putting Maryland in line with other states around the country that have decriminalized possession of larger amounts of cannabis.

The bill, which passed 36-11, was proposed by Baltimore County state Sen. Bobby Zirkin. It went to first reading today in the Maryland House of Delegates, and is now with the House Judiciary Committee.

“The randomness of 10 grams, it just doesn’t correspond to anything,” Zirkin explained to The Baltimore Sun, which first reported its passage. “It was a number picked out of the sky by the House Judiciary committee.”

He’s not wrong. Ten grams is an unorthodox amount for someone to purchase and carry, akin to buying a five-pack of beer at the store. And yet, oddly, Maryland is not alone in this, based on some quick research into the laws of 22 states that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis: Both Illinois and Missouri likewise set their decriminalization limits at 10 grams; New Hampshire picked 21 grams; New York in 1977 opted for a 25-gram limit, around three grams shy of an ounce; Mississippi’s magic number is 30; and Minnesota inexplicably sets the possession bar at 42.5 grams.

Beyond imposing a $100 fine for being caught with an ounce or less in Maryland, Zirkin’s bill would heighten the penalties for being caught driving with any marijuana in one’s system or for carrying passengers in the car who are smoking cannabis. 

Among the 11 senators who voted against the measure were Harford County Sen. Bob Cassilly and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Miller was a staunch proponent of the 10-gram decriminalization limit in 2014, and even said then that he backed all-out legalization. But this time around, he reportedly opposed it because he said loosening cannabis laws is “going the opposite way” amid an opioid epidemic plaguing Maryland.

If Miller was referring to a potential link between marijuana use and opioid overdoses–his office hasn’t responded to a request for a clarification–research has shown that fatal overdoses dropped more than 6 percent after Colorado legalized recreational cannabis. And if he was speaking to marijuana’s mythical status as a gateway to harder drugs, well, that’s been long-debunked, and has even lost the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s endorsement.

Two sibling bills that would accomplish Miller’s old cause—creating a market to tax and regulate the sale of recreational cannabis—have less support. The House of Delegates version received a hearing last Tuesday, but hasn’t seen a full vote, and the Senate version met the same fate after a February hearing, legislative records show.

That proposed legislation, if passed, would leave it up to voters to decide whether to legalize cannabis in a referendum during the November election.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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