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Public Debate Continues Over The Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ)—Major changes to Maryland’s marijuana laws. This weekend, decriminalization passed the House of Delegates.

Monique Griego has more on the bill and the ongoing debate.

The law makes possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil — instead of criminal — offense.

While the vote is over, outrage over the bill isn’t.

At times, the debate got heated.

“House of Delegates, you can do better. Our people deserve better. Our kids deserve a better message, and this is not it,” said Del. Michael McDermott, (R)-Somerset County.

Despite passionate pleas from critics, Maryland’s House of Delegates on Saturday passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana in Maryland.

“The key is there will be civil penalties instead of criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana,” said Del. Keiffer Mitchell Jr. (D)-Baltimore.

That amount being 10 grams.

“Criminalizing people for a small amount of marijuana is not good, not good for our society or our public resources,” said Delegate Allan Kittleman.

Maryland’s Senate already passed a similar bill, and after agreeing to some changes, the bill is now on its way to the governor. Those in favor say similar laws in other states haven’t increased problems.

“In no state has any other drug usage gone up…not heroin, cocaine, nothing,” said Delegate Bobby Zirkin.

That’s something drug expert and counselor Mike Gimbel says simply isn’t true.

“When decriminalization happens, more people smoke pot,” Gimbel said.

Supporters of the measure include the Black Caucus who pointed to a disparity in the way marijuana laws are enforced against African-Americans.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agreed it’s an issue.

“I’m not in agreement with this tactic, and I’ve been clear on that. But I think it’s important that the inequity in criminal justice needs to be addressed,” the mayor said.

Gimbel believes decriminalization in the end only hurts young people of every race.

“Every legislator has kids. If they voted for this they should be ashamed of their selves because this is going to hurt our children,” Gimbel said.

Fines for a civil offense will start at $100, and then jump to $250 and then $500.

While Gov. O’Malley has reservations about lenient marijuana laws in the past, he says he will keep an open mind when looking at the bill.

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