Pubdate: Sat, 12 Apr 2014
Source: Reporter, The (Lansdale, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Reporter
Note: Editorial from The Washington Post


Maryland's marijuana laws remain a work in progress. Lawmakers in 
Annapolis have just enacted a measure to decriminalize the possession 
of small amounts of pot, treating it as an offense on a par with 
minor traffific infractions. But possession of drug paraphernalia - 
growing equipment, scales, bongs and "roach clips" - can still land 
you in jail and draw a stiff fifine. The logic in this arrangement 
may be lacking, but the trend is clear.

Across the country, states are moving to ease punishment for 
recreational pot use and to make medical marijuana more available. 
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the drug and are 
regulating and taxing it like alcohol. With the legislative landscape 
in such flflux, and public opinion shifting quickly in the direction 
of leniency, Maryland faced a real challenge in getting its laws 
right. After some anguished back and forth, it did so, mostly.

The bill that emerged from the General Assembly, which Gov. Martin 
O'Malley, D, said he will sign, is a major change. Until now, those 
convicted of possession of small amounts of pot could face jail time, 
though as a practical matter most have been put on probation, at 
least for the fifirst offense. Convictions constituted criminal 
offenses, staining the records of many young adults.

Under the new law, adults age 21 and over will face fines escalating 
to $500 the first three times they are caught with less than 10 grams 
of pot. (That's about a third of an ounce, enough for two or three 
dozen joints, and worth anywhere from $50 to $100, depending on the 
drug's quality.) They will not have to appear in court, and - again 
like a traffic ticket - the offense will not result in a criminal 
record. (Offenders under the age of 21 will still have to go before a 
judge, though they are also unlikely to face prison time.)

The legislation's passage was a close-run thing. In the House of 
Delegates, where a similar measure failed last year after passing the 
state Senate, it was opposed by the head of the Judiciary Committee, 
Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George's. But a groundswell of 
support from African American lawmakers turned the tide in the bill's 
favor, and with good reason. Blacks are far more likely to face 
charges and punishment for possessing marijuana, even though their 
rate of use of the drug is no higher than that of other groups. That 
racial disparity in enforcement is a disgrace.

As with gay marriage, Americans' attitudes toward marijuana have 
evolved with breathtaking speed. A poll by the Pew Research Center, 
conducted just over a year ago, found that 52 percent of the public 
supported legalizing marijuana, a jump of 20 percentage points since 
2002. Among younger Americans, about two-thirds favor legalization.

Given that movement, Maryland could have gone the way of Colorado and 
Washington. Wisely, lawmakers demurred. Allowing retail outlets to 
sell the drug may turn out to be harmless, though we have our doubts; 
plenty of evidence suggests that the drug's use can have harmful 
health effects and can contribute to traffic accidents and 
fatalities. Better to watch the results from Colorado and Washington 
before following them blindly.
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