State's Attorney Charlie Smith calls pot a 'social evil.'
There are several bills in the 2013 Maryland General Assembly which would loosen restrictions on marijuana, and they don't have the support of prosecutors in the state. The Maryland Association of State's Attorneys is urging state senators to vote down legislation that would make possession of pot a civil offense with violators paying a fine of up to $100.
"In my opinion, and in the opinion of the State's Attorneys Association, it's essentially a legalization of marijuana bill," says Frederick County State's Attorney Charlie Smith.
Other bills would authorize medical use of marijuana under specific circumstances, and repeal the criminal provisions of the law. It would allow the imposition of a fine or the use of an affirmative defense for the use or possession of marijuana, as well as the use of paraphernalia related to pot. If it's passed, it would authorize the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to adopt regulations regarding medicinal use of marijuana by December 1st, 2013.
Another piece of legislation would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Maryland, which is similar to legislation passed by referendum last year in Colorado and Washington. It would allow Marylanders 21 and over to possess one ounce or less of pot in their homes, and an excise tax of $50 per ounce would be collected by the state for this purpose. No more than three plants could grown in the home, and they would be required to have state-issued zip tags attached. Smoking marijuana in public, and while driving a motor vehicle would still be prohibited, however. The revenue raised would be used for alcohol, tobacco and drug treatment programs.
Smith says legalizing pot would serve no purpose. "We just don't believe it should be legalized. This is something that we believe is a social evil," he says. "Our families and our children are burdened by so much already. We just don't need to add another social evil to their plate."
And, he says, the $100-fine will not deter the sale and use of marijuana. He says violators won't pay the civil citation; they'll just tear it up and throw it away.
In addition, Smith says it could encourage more drug crimes. "It's common practice now for drug dealers, especially in the major cities, to get young kids, 13, 14, and even 12-years-old to run their drugs," he says. "So now, you're going to have these kids run a quarter ounce baggies, which is 7 grams, and what's going to happen to them? Nothing. What are you going to do? Fine a 13-year-old?"
He also says if these bills are enacted, it could get very expensive to regulate marijuana. "You're going to have to regulate its growing. You're going to have to regulate its distribution," Smith says. "It's going to cost taxpayers millions, upon millions, upon millions of dollars to regulate this industry. And you only have to look no further than California for proof of that."
Earlier this year, Governor Martin O'Malley came out in support of medical use of marijuana.
No matter what happens, federal law still classifies marijuana as a controlled dangerous substance and has made it illegal. But late last year, the Obama Administration announced that prosecuting recreational users of pot on the federal level was not a top priority. It said nothing about those who grow and sell marijuana commercially.