by Phillip Smith
The Maryland General Assembly adjourned Monday night, but not before passing two bills that lighten up on marijuana possession. One bill, House Bill 350, reduces the penalty for possession of small amounts; the other, Senate Bill 422, makes marijuana possession a citeable offense.
Sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore) in the House and Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) in the Senate, HB 350, lowers the penalty for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana from up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine to up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The bill originally would have reduced the penalty for possession of up to 14 grams (a half ounce), but was amended in the House to only seven grams. The 10 gram limit was a compromise reached in conference committee. The final version of the bill passed the House 91-32 and the Senate 40-5.
Introduced by Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), SB 422 was written in response to a state court of appeals ruling that arrestees had a statutory right to counsel and a Public Defender analysis that the ruling would cost the state $28 million. The bill repeals the requirement and makes marijuana possession an offense chargeable by citation, meaning an officer can arrest someone for pot possession, but cannot jail him. The final version of the bill passed the House 81-58 and the Senate 45-0.
Both bills are now before Gov. Martin O’Malley and are awaiting his signature.