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Maryland senate votes to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

The Maryland Senate [official website] on Tuesday voted 30-16 [legislative history] in favor of a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Sponsored by Democratic Senator Robert Zirkin and Republican Senator Allan Kittleman [official websites], Senate Bill 297 [text, PDF] seeks to lower the penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of the drug to a maximum $100 fine instead of the current maximum of $500 coupled with 90 days in prison. Motivated by a waste of expenditures under the current law, the bill's Fiscal and Policy Note [text, PDF] cites minimal decreases "in general fund revenues from fines imposed in District Court cases" and "for incarcerations" as two positive effects the new law could have on Maryland. The Note similarly cites a "[m]inimal decrease in local expenditures due to the ... elimination of an incarceration penalty" as well as no effect on revenues or small businesses. SB 297 now passes to the Maryland House of Representatives [official website] for approval.

Marijuana [JURIST news archive] has been a recent hot-button issue in the US and abroad. Last month the Michigan Supreme Court [official website] ruled that the private sale of medical marijuana is illegal [JURIST report]. Additionally, the top court in Ontario upheld Canada's general ban on marijuana [JURIST report]. In January the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled that marijuana is still an illegal Schedule I drug [JURIST report] under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 [text]. In December, an Arizona judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law is constitutional [JURIST report] and instructed the state to permit dispensaries to open. In November, lawmakers in Uruguay proposed legislation for state-regulated marijuana [JURIST report]. Also that month, Washington [Initiative 502, PDF] and Colorado [Amendment 64, PDF] legalized the drug [JURIST report] via state ballot initiatives. Similarly, medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts [Harvard Crimson report] for the first time, as over 60 percent of voters approved a similar referendum [Petition 11-11, PDF]. The Oregon electorate, however, failed to pass a cannabis initiative [Measure 80, PDF] by a vote of approximately 55-to-45 percent [Examiner.com report].

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