The legislative session has been underway for more than a month, and few fireworks have come out of Annapolis. Occasionally a story pops up about a group standing in opposition of Maryland’s strict gun laws. This past month we have seen a proposal to repeal a pro-slavery law from the 1800’s. There have also been the somewhat odd headlines such as the five-cent chicken tax proposed by the General Assembly, and Delegate Dwyer’s ridiculous proposal that all active lawmakers be subject to a minimum mandatory jail sentence upon receiving a DUI conviction. But just like last year, the real stories coming out of our state’s capital have to do with marijuana legislation. The Blog didn’t set out to exclusively cover the progress of pot laws in Maryland, and we are by no means an exclusive marijuana blog. In fact we would love to spread the articles across various criminal law topics such as DUI, gun control, and police corruption. But marijuana politics simply cannot be ignored, and this week is no different. While our readers fully are aware of democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur stance on the issue (for those who have not read our most recent post) two more prominent political figures have come out in support of changing our marijuana laws, and changing them now.
Current Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown recently published a formal letter outlining his stance on marijuana politics. Supporters of the movement toward legalization will be pleased to learn that Brown’s stance is considerably more liberal than his boss, Governor O’Malley’s, who still has not affirmatively voiced support for change. Brown stated that Maryland’s current stance on pot is costly and ineffective; the $55 million spent by the state enforcing marijuana laws did little to reduce crime or protect the public. He supports the common contention that these resources are much better suited for violent crime prevention and drug education. Brown also takes issue with the harsh consequences that an arrest and conviction for a minor marijuana offense can carry. But the Lieutenant Governor does not fully support pot legalization, as the letter simply calls for decriminalization of the drug. The decriminalization plan would take simple possession out of the criminal arena, and make the offense punishable by a fine only. This is also the plan advocated by fellow gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler.
Now that the three leading candidates to succeed O’Malley have publicly supported changes to our marijuana laws, it’s just a matter of time before lawmakers can agree on a bill. We have always felt that a policy of decriminalization would still be costly and ineffective. The state would have to establish a whole new system to prosecute marijuana citations, and the court systems would still have to deal with thousands of pot cases. If the Maryland politicians really care about the bottom line then legalization with regulation and taxation is the only acceptable policy. Legalization is inevitable in the next decade and decriminalization is an unnecessary and unwanted bridge to this new era. The majority already supports legalization, and successful state programs are currently up and running in America right now. Decriminalization would be as wasteful and ineffective as state medical marijuana, which has gone nowhere since being signed into law. Decriminalization is a weak stance that shows a lack of vision, and is a classic example of politicians riding both sides of the fence at the expense of the taxpayers. It better serves the state to patiently install a well thought out, functioning legal marijuana program than to rush into the plan supported by Brown.
Benjamin Herbst is an experienced Maryland drug crimes lawyer, who handles all types of offenses including marijuana possession in state and federal court. For a free consultation call or email Benjamin at The Herbst Firm anytime.