Maryland and New Hampshire to Decriminalize Marijuana

The state has the fourth highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the U.S.

Photo Credit: Atomazul / Shutterstock.com

Maryland has the fourth highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the U.S. according to a report released in June 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union. In keeping with larger national trends, the report also found that black people accounted for 58% of marijuana possession arrests and were more than three times more likely to be arrested than whites despite using marijuana at comparable rates. But change is in the air.

The state’s senate committee approved a bill to replace criminal penalties for the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana with a $100 civil fine, similar to a parking ticket. The decision follows Washington DC’s similar move to decriminalize marijuana earlier this month.

Nancy Rosen-Cohen, executive director of the Maryland branch of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence said “branding someone a criminal” for possessing marijuana causes a “lifetime of harm.”

“A criminal record of any kind becomes a barrier to employment and housing, which hurts both the individual and whole families,” she said in a press release.

Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved the bill 8-3 with bipartisan support on Friday. Now, the measure will receive a full vote in the Senate, which approved a similar measure last year with bipartisan support.

More than two-thirds of Maryland voters (68 percent) reported they support decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana possession, according to a survey conducted in September by Public Policy Polling.

Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project said this legislation will benefit law enforcement as well as citizens.

“Criminalizing adults for marijuana possession will not make Maryland safer, but this legislation will,” she wrote in a press release. “Law enforcement officials should spend their time addressing serious crimes, not arresting and prosecuting adults for using a less harmful substance than alcohol.”

More and more states are catching onto the decriminalization trend. Seventeen states and Washington DC have removed the threat of jail for pot possession, and twelve other states are currently considering legislation to reduce marijuana penalties to a fine. 

The New Hampshire House of Representatives approved a decriminalization similar to Maryland's this week. If the bill passes, New Hampshire will be the last New England state to decriminalize pot. 

"Every other state in New England has ended the needless and antiquated practice of criminalizing people for marijuana possession," said Matt Simon, the Goffstown-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is supporting the bill.  "It's time for New Hampshire to join them and adopt a more sensible marijuana policy."

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April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor.