Pubdate: Thu, 03 Apr 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Fredrick Kunkle


House Committee's Chairman Holds Bills Back; Task Force Formed

A committee in Maryland's House of Delegates on Wednesday killed
legislation that would have legalized or decriminalized the use of
marijuana in the state, choosing instead to form a task force to study
the issue.

The only major initiative on marijuana still alive in the General
Assembly is a bill to revise the state's medical marijuana law to make
the drug more accessible to patients.

The Maryland Senate approved a decriminalization bill in mid-March,
for the second year in a row.

Supporters were hopeful that the state might follow other
jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia, that have voted to
lift criminal sanctions against the drug.

Many lawmakers believed that decriminalization - which would treat
possession of small amounts of pot like a traffic ticket, rather than
a criminal offense - stood a better chance of passage than bills that
would have fully legalized marijuana, taxing and regulating its
production and distribution in a way similar to alcohol.

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr.
(D-Prince George's) and members of his panel expressed concerns about
both legalization and decriminalization and did not let the bills move

"They're dead this year," said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery),
who serves on the committee. He said he would have voted to send a
decriminalization bill to the House floor but didn't think there were
enough votes in the committee to do so.

Supporters of decriminalization say it is time to back down from a war
against a drug that, at best, has been shown to have medicinal
properties and, at worst, is no more dangerous than alcohol.

Detractors said lessening penalties for smoking marijuana could have
many unintended consequences and - despite lengthy hearings and
debates - are urging a go-slow approach.

To create the Task Force on Marijuana Decriminalization and Diversion,
the House Judiciary Committee amended a legalization bill sponsored by
Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore).

The task force would include the state secretary of Health and Mental
Hygiene, law enforcement officials, the office of the public defender
and representatives of civil rights groups.

Maryland's House and Senate have passed different versions of a
medical marijuana measure, which would make the medical marijuana law
passed by the state last year more workable.

Supporters said they expect the differences in the two versions to be
ironed out in a conference committee before the General Assembly
adjourns for the year on Monday.  
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