Maryland House Passes Cannabis Decriminalization Bill
June 11, 2020 in Cannabis Law
On Wednesday, March 11, 2020 the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB 550, a bill that would broaden the state’s current cannabis decriminalization policy. In this article I will explain the new policy changes, including the new cannabis threshold and the fines schedule for violations. I will also update you on the current status of the Maryland General Assembly in response to the pandemic. Lastly, here’s what you can do to help this bill pass in the Maryland State Senate when the General Assembly reconvenes.
Current Law vs The New Law
Currently, possession of more than 10 grams is considered a criminal offense. It is treated as a misdemeanor which can carry up to one year of jail time and up to $1,000 fine. The new bill would treat an offense as a civil one, increasing the threshold to one ounce. It also specifies that on its own, possession of up to one ounce is not considered evidence of the intent to distribute cannabis.
House Bill 550: Criminal Law – Marijuana – Possession and Possession With Intent To Distribute
Multiple violations would carry the following penalties:
- For the first offense, punishment would carry up to a $100 fine
- For the second offense, punishment would carry up to a $250 fine
- For the third and any subsequent offenses, punishment would carry up to a $500 fine. For third offenses, the courts would have the capability to direct participation in a drug education program. They may also require offenders to enroll in a substance abuse treatment program, if deemed necessary.
Delegate Nick Mosby, Democrat representing District 40 in Baltimore, sponsored the legislation. It passed in a 94-43 vote. The next step would have been to send the bill to the Senate. However, due to the pandemic, the Maryland General Assembly has no date set to reconvene. More on that later.
Neill Franklin, former Maryland State Police Major and current executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, enthusiastically supported the passage of this legislation. He recognizes that any legislation which helps its citizens to avoid unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice system is a very good thing. In my mind, this is a very big deal when those in law enforcement support cannabis reform laws.
Carly Wolf, the state policies coordinator for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) weighed in on the passage of HB 550 with the following comments:
“I commend House lawmakers who cast their vote in favor of this sensible reform measure, which will spare many Marylanders from the lifelong consequences of a marijuana arrest, and I encourage members of the state Senate to follow suit.”
She also applauded Maryland lawmakers for their “political will to move reform forward and end the failed policy of prohibition.”
Legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, Olivia Naugle, also reiterated that HB 550 is a very important step for Maryland to move forward in reducing the number of arrests and criminal charges for cannabis possession. Maryland had one of the lowest possession thresholds of any state that has decriminalized or legalized cannabis.
Democratic lawmakers have filed 3 separate bills to legalize cannabis for adult-use, but none has advanced to either the House or Senate floors for a vote.
Maryland General Assembly Has Adjourned Sine Die Due To The Pandemic
Sadly, the pandemic has put the brakes on the momentum that was building for the passage of HB 550 by the Maryland State Senate. On March 15, 2020 Senate president, Bill Ferguson, and Adrienne Jones, House of Delegates speaker, announced that the General Assembly would adjourn on March 18, 2020. That cut short its annual 90 day long legislative session by three weeks, scheduled to adjourn on April 6, 2020. This was the first time that the General Assembly had adjourned early since the Civil War. The hope of legislators was to reconvene for a special session the fourth week of May.
On April 20, 2020 Ferguson and Jones announced that they would not reconvene in May and they gave no appointed date for resumption of the General Assembly. Jones said that this decision was not taken lightly and that they had spoken with health experts who advised against reconvening. Ferguson added that their job was to balance the safety of the lawmakers and staff along with that of the public to make sure that the public is being served in controlling the virus and ultimately starting the economic recovery effort.
While the General Assembly is on hiatus, Jones said that the Joint COVID-19 Legislative Workgroup has continued to meet each week. It is made up of a bipartisan panel of state legislators, focused on battling the virus. They will continue to assess the need and consider the timing for a future special session with the safety for all members and staff as their number one concern.
What You Can Do
Please contact your State Senators now and urge them to support the passage of HB 550 when they reconvene. It never hurts to contact them on a regular basis and to let them know how important this issue is for you. Let them know that this legislation would reduce arrests, save tax payer dollars and would keep citizens out of the criminal justice system. This is extremely important for people of color. If you have any personal cannabis stories to share about how experiences with the criminal justice system have impacted you or your family, that always makes a bigger impression on legislators.
marijuanamoment.com, Maryland House Votes To Expand Marijuana Decriminalization Law, March 11, 2020, Kyle Jaeger
marylandreporter.com, General Assembly Leaders Postpone May Special Session, April 20, 2020, Bryan Renbaum