Summary and opinion by Mariama McGee.
The Maryland General Assembly made the choice two years ago to eliminate criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. However Annapolis lawmakers now want to recriminalize public marijuana consumption. A policy that heavily impacts people of color.
Individuals caught smoking in public are subject to fines up to $600 or more depending on how much they have. Law enforcement can confiscate the drug and arrest those who fail to comply for disorderly conduct or loitering. There are graduating fines for simple possession. Those under 18 or third-time offending adults have to see a judge and may be sent to treatment program. Anyone caught in possession of more than 10 grams may be arrested, whether they were smoking or not.
Recriminalizing will be a great problem. Leigh Maddox, retired captain with Maryland State Police and member of the board of the Law Enforcement against Prohibition, has noticed that the only time that smoking in public was noticeable was at an outdoor music concert and public protest smoke-ins. Fifteen other states have removed criminal penalties for marijuana possession and there has not been any negative results in those states. Public marijuana smoking should be compared to smoking tobacco such as civil penalties like smoking in an elevator is $25.
Criminal penalties for marijuana possession will impacts low-income communities, renters, medicinal marijuana patients and people of color. African-Americans and Caucasian Americans use marijuana at the same rate yet data shows that the African-American population are much more likely to be arrested for possession. An ACLU report found that black Maryland residents were nearly three times more likely to be subject to arrest for cannabis possession than their white counterparts.
As Maddox says “It’s time to move forward, not backward”. A February Goucher poll showed that 54 percent of Marylanders support legalizing and regulating marijuana.
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