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Maryland decriminalizes smoking marijuana in public


(NaturalNews) The Maryland General Assembly has overturned a veto by Governor Larry Hogan on a bill that decriminalizes possession of paraphernalia and the smoking of marijuana in public. The bill, known as SB 517, which makes public use of marijuana a civil rather than criminal offense, was voted into law on January 22, 2015, by the Maryland legislature.

The bill was designed to fix an existing flaw in the state's marijuana policy. In 2013, Maryland passed legislation decriminalizing marijuana in amounts smaller than 10 grams – a law which unfortunately overlooked the issue of paraphernalia and public use, which until now have remained illegal.

In the spring of last year, Gov. Hogan vetoed the bill which, according to marijuana advocacy groups, was introduced to bring conformity to the state's laws regarding marijuana use.

A small victory for marijuana advocates

The Marijuana Policy Coalition considers the overturn a "victory" but stresses that there is still more work to be done:

"Until cannabis is legal and regulated for adults, Marylanders who choose to consume a substance safer than alcohol will still be stigmatized as lawbreakers, racially biased enforcement of marijuana laws will continue to result in unequal justice, and the marijuana market will continue to be in the shadows."

The coalition is in favor of regulating cannabis in a similar manner to alcohol, and a recent poll shows that the majority of Maryland voters agree with decriminalization and regulation efforts.

From the Sun Times:

"The survey, conducted by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies for Marijuana Policy Project, found that 52.9 percent of Maryland voters said they favored changing state law to regulate and tax marijuana similar to alcohol. Just 43 percent said they opposed changing the law."

Despite growing support of decriminalization in the state, Gov. Hogan has fought efforts to reduce criminal penalties for public use, saying he believes that "state and local law enforcement would be left with no authority to make a traffic stop if they see someone smoking marijuana while driving."

During the hearings, opponents of the law echoed the governor's sentiments, and also predicted that the overturn would "create a raucous scene of people getting high in the streets."

As reported by High Times:

"Delegate Herb McMillan, who so eloquently spewed a cornucopia of stereotypes in an attempt to prove his point—calling booze hounds 'Bubba' and stoners 'Jeff Spicoli'—said that going against the veto would force those caught drinking in public to go to jail, while 'Spicoli can take the piece of paper he was given by the police officer, make a doobie out of it and smoke it.'"

Supporters of the law downplay such fears, noting that marijuana users could still be charged with driving under the influence and that using marijuana in a moving vehicle is explicitly prohibited.

"This bill in no way, in no way affects the driving under the influence laws," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The Marijuana Policy Coalition said:

"The continued criminalization of paraphernalia in practice meant that people with small amounts of cannabis were still being arrested throughout the state, sometimes for nothing but the plastic bag containing the cannabis. This unfortunate shortcoming will now be fixed, thanks to the courage and support of our lawmakers."

One step at a time

It's encouraging to see more and more states coming around to the realization that marijuana is essentially a harmless plant which has never caused a single fatality – unlike tobacco, alcohol and many prescription drugs, which kill hundreds of thousands each year.

Marijuana's medicinal value has been proven time and time again, and cannabis has recently shown great promise in the fight against cancer.

The victory for marijuana advocates in Maryland represents only one small step in the effort to remove criminal penalties for marijuana use in the United States, but it's a step in the right direction.







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