[JURIST] The Maryland state House of Representatives [official website] passed a bill [HB 881, materials] on Saturday that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The House voted 78 to 55 to impose civil fines, rather than criminal sanctions, on those caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana. Those in favor of the bill pointed to racial disparities in sentencing [WP report], with African Americans more likely than whites to receive a prison sentence for possession. They also argued that a criminal convictions for possession of even small amounts of marijuana can permanently hinder a person’s ability to get a job. Opponents of the bill said that it was being rushed through the chamber and that delegates need more time to weigh the consequences. Republican Delegate Michael A. McDermott pointed out that lawmakers were about to make possession of marijuana a civil offense while leaving the possession of drug paraphernalia a criminal offense subject to prison time. The Maryland Senate also passed a bill (SB 331) [text, PDF] on Saturday that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2018. Maryland would be the second state to meet the minimum-wage goal set by President Barack Obama.
The use of marijuana for medical purposes and the legalization of marijuana [JURIST backgrounder] for recreational use has garnered more legal support [Marijuana Policy Project website] in the US in recent months. Earlier this month, Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill [JURIST report] that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the District of Columbia for up to an ounce. Last month, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that lawyers can advise marijuana businesses in the state without fear of violating state attorney ethics laws. Also in March the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] succeeded [JURIST report] in a lawsuit to defend the rights of Arizonans to use marijuana extracts for medical conditions. Also in March, the state senate in Georgia unanimously approved a house version [JURIST reports] of a groundbreaking medical marijuana bill for the state.