Work group rolls out views on marijuana -- Gazette.Net







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Pot drops cloud on Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS — From bill hearings to rallies, the Maryland General Assembly spent much of Thursday talking about marijuana.

About 12 bills have been introduced this session trying to do everything, including easing restrictions on medicinal use, decriminalizing possession of small amounts, and making Maryland the latest state to legalize, tax and regulate the substance.

Termed “Marijuana Day,” the subject dominated discussions, particularly in the House Judiciary Committee, which spent much of its time debating three separate bills on the issue.

While the House is just beginning its process of hearing legislation on the various approaches to the subject in its chamber, the Senate will take a final vote Friday on a bill that would decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana, making it a civil offense.

The Senate passed similar legislation last year but it failed to pass the House.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, House sponsor of a similar bill on the issue, said she is hopeful 2014 is the year.

“We can get decriminalization done this session,” she said, but added legalization will likely require an election before it can pass.

Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington said his hope is that the House is able to move on medical marijuana and decriminalization.

“In my mind, deferring action on medical and [decriminalization] would be an opportunity missed,” he said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Dist. 27A) of Upper Marlboro would not predict his committee’s action, saying it will have to look at what is presented.

“We’re going to have to hear them, hear what they have to say,” he said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch convened several of his lawmakers — including Dels. C. William Frick and Jeff Waldstreicher — to study marijuana policy in Maryland, which included questions of whether the state should take the first steps toward legalization.

Multiple pieces of legislation have been proposed this session attempting to do everything from easing restrictions on medicinal use of marijuana and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot, to making Maryland the latest state to legalize, tax and regulate the substance.

Known as the Marijuana Work Group, the panel was formed for the purpose of “information gathering and information sharing,” said Frick, who is the group’s chairman.

So far the work group’s meetings have been primarily informational, said Waldstreicher (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington.

He said the group is trying to better understand what’s at play when it comes to medical marijuana and marijuana generally.

Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis has said he does not support recreational use of marijuana, but he said he did not form the group — which was done quietly — to study the bills to death, but rather give everyone a broad view of the issue.

“I think it [the issue] evolved quickly and people need as much information as they can possibly get,” he said.

Frick (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda said the group has heard from subject matter experts with on all sides, including from organizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures that would not likely testify on the bills.

But now that it has completed its hearings, what is next for the work group remains uncertain.

Waldstreicher said the group has the ability to make recommendations. Whether it will or not remains to be seen.

Frick said he expects it to meet again and hopes the work group will discuss the issue, but it has not scheduled any more meetings as of Thursday. Frick said he announces the dates and times for meetings from the floor; the group will not have a published schedule of meetings.