By Pat Warren

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ)— Maryland inches forward on a bill to decriminalize marijuana.

Political reporter Pat Warren reports the state Senate is one step closer to passing a bill to make possession a civil offense.

Stirring the pot.

“In no state, not New York or Mississippi or Ohio or any of these states, has marijuana usage gone up when they moved from criminal to civil. In no state has any other drug usage gone up, not heroin, not cocaine, crack, nothing!” said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, (D) Baltimore County.

Pay a fine and skip the jail time. Those are the conditions of a marijuana bill that won preliminary approval in the state Senate on Wednesday.

“We’ve pretty much decided that we think criminalizing people for very small amounts of marijuana is not good. It’s not good for our society. It’s not good for our public resources,” said Sen. Allan Kittleman, (R) Howard and Carroll.

Public opinion has varied.

“For me, personally, I would be against it,” one person said.

There are lawmakers who propose outright legalization of less than an ounce.

“We say let’s have the government regulate it, tax it, we can raise more than $100 million a year,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, (D) Montgomery.

“Absolutely not,” one woman said.

And most law enforcement is on record against it.

“This sends a horrible message to our kids,” one person said.

But the idea that decriminalization, short of outright legalization, is better public policy and is gaining momentum.

“For example in Baltimore City, African-Americans are 68 percent of the city, they are 92 percent of all arrests,” said Sarah Love, ACLU.

The Senate bill addresses underage usage.

“Forces juveniles to go to court and stand before a judge and could be ordered into drug treatment for a third offense,” Zirkin said.

All of which would have to also win approval in the House of Delegates.

“Hopefully we get it over there by the end of the week and give them plenty of time to work on it and I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll be successful this year,” Kittleman said.

The House Judiciary Committee hears a bill to decriminalize marijuana sponsored by delegate and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur on Thursday.

Maryland’s stalled medical marijuana program is also being addressed this session.

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