News & Politics

Maryland to Decriminalize Marijuana

No more criminal penalties for possession of ten grams or less.

Ten grams is about what you can fit in the palm of hand. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Maryland will be the next state to decriminalize marijuana with Governor Martin O’Malley saying he will sign a bill passed Monday that makes possession of ten grams or less punishable with a ticket and fine instead of an arrest. O’Malley, who was previously cagey on whether he supports marijuana reform, said he would sign the bill after the Maryland Senate approved it.

“The General Assembly has decided after much consideration—and with clear majorities in both chambers—to send to my desk a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and I plan to sign it,” O’Malley says in a press release.

Under the Maryland bill, possession of 10 grams or less would be punishable with a $100 fine on the first offense, $250 for the second offense, and $500 for any incidents thereafter. Maryland had the fourth-highest arrest rate for marijuana-related offenses in 2010, with 409 per 100,000 residents, according to a report issued last year by the American Civil Liberties Union. The report also found that blacks are nearly three times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession or use, although O’Malley says Maryland does not incarcerate many people for weed.

“As a matter of judicial economy and prosecutorial discretion, few if any defendants go to prison for a first or even a second offense of marijuana possession in Maryland,” he says. “Desuetude is often a precursor of reform.”

O’Malley’s office refused as recently as January to say whether he supported decriminalization, although he’s been more open about the topic with his expected presidential campaign approaching. Still, there are some in Maryland who would like to go further, such as State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who endorsed legalization in January. O’Malley does not say when he intends to sign the decriminalization bill.

The District also joined the ranks of jursidictions to relax its marijuana laws last week when Mayor Vince Gray signed a bill decriminalizing possession of up to one ounce, although with Congress’s involvement in DC’s affairs, that law will not go into effect until the end of a 60-day review period.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.