Maryland lawmakers who support reform of the state’s marijuana laws are not planning to introduce legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session, despite the popular votes in Colorado and Washington state to legalize pot.
Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market, who in the 2012 regular session co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill to allow for pharmacies to distribute medical marijuana under state control, said marijuana laws need reforming, but he is not optimistic anything will be done in the next session.
In 2011, the state passed legislation to allow patients with a prescription for marijuana for medical reasons to use that as an affirmative defense should they be charged with possession.
But the effort to allow medical marijuana to be sold at pharmacies regulated by the state failed this year after a veto threat from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit organization that supports reform of state and federal marijuana laws, said he believes Maryland has made significant progress on the issue, but like many states is waiting to see what federal officials do.
The federal government still views marijuana as an illegal drug, even in states that have legalized it, Fox said. That has created confusion and concerns for state officials.
Maryland did pass two more-lenient laws governing marijuana in 2012. One reduced the penalty for possession of less than 10 grams to 90 days maximum from a previous one year in jail. The other required police to issue citations for the offense in place of arrest and incarceration prior to a bail hearing.
A fiscal policy note estimated that $27 million could be saved statewide in jail costs, as well as to police, prosecutors and public defenders.
“The war on drugs is more of a war on our community pocketbooks,” Brinkley said.
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring said the state is moving toward taking a “more rational” approach to marijuana, and the passage of the two ballot issues in other states will help with that.
But Raskin, who co-sponsored the marijuana reform bills with Brinkley, said he has not heard of any bills planned for the 2013 session, even though many lawmakers believe more reforms are needed.
“I have heard a very broad consensus that people consider the war on drugs a failure,” Raskin said. “What we’ve been doing has not been working in America. This is not a Maryland issue, it’s a nationwide issue.”
The state and the nation need to look at it from a criminal policy standpoint as well as from a public health point of view, he said.
The voters are moving faster than the politicians on the issue, Raskin said.
“This is not dangerous politically to be talking about anymore,” he said. “My ally on medical marijuana is Sen. Brinkley. We really have a conservative-liberal alliance that we need to have rationality in our marijuana laws.”
Michael O’Loughlin, a political science professor at Salisbury University, agreed.
“This is an unprecedented breatkthrough with regards to this issue,” O’Loughlin said of the Colorado and Washington state votes.
But not all lawmakers are on board, Brinkley said. He said he was criticized by a fellow conservative senator who opposes medical marijuana.
“He asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I told him I was just trying to create another cash crop for the tobacco farmers in his district,” Brinkley quipped.