Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to legislation to eliminate criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.
Members of the state House of Delegates on Saturday passed the measure by a vote of 78 to 55. Members of the Senate on Monday approved the bill by a vote of 34 to 8. Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged that he intends to sign the bill into law.
The forthcoming law reduces existing penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor (presently punishable by arrest, up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record) to a non-arrestable, non-criminal fine-only offense ($100 fine for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders).
The new law will take effect on October 1, 2014.
According to a recent ACLU report, Maryland in 2010 possessed the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country.
Maryland’s pending law is similar to existing decriminalization laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.
Three states – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In March, lawmakers for the District of Columbia also approved legislation reducing penalties for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). The measure is subject to a 60-day review period by members of Congress before it can become District law.
Maryland lawmakers on Monday also approved separate legislation amending the state’s existing medical marijuana law, which had been largely nonfunctional. The pending law will allow for qualified patients to obtain cannabis for therapeutic purposes from state-licensed producers and distributors.