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Bill To Legalize Recreational Marijuana Reigniting Debate In Maryland

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The debate to legalize recreational marijuana is gaining momentum across Maryland, but some are urging lawmakers to slow down the process.

Senate Bill 1039 would give Marylanders the chance to make recreational marijuana legal. Some say it's long overdue, while opponents are urging lawmakers to take a look the impact some cities are now dealing with.

The bill is reigniting the debate on legalized marijuana in Maryland.

Under the proposed bill, which would amend the Maryland constitution, people over the age of 21 could carry up to an ounce of marijuana. People could also grow up to six plants and also share small amounts.

"To be honest with you, I think it's past time. It's something that causes thousands of people every year to enter into the criminal justice system," said Kate Bell of the Marijuana Policy Project.

Lawmakers heard from both sides of the issue for the first time Tuesday in Annapolis.

Supporters say if passed, thousands will be kept out of jail while safely regulating a nearly $10-billion-a-year industry.

"In fact we've seen some of the funding raised from legalization go to public education programs for people," Bell said.

Opponents are now asking lawmakers to hit the brakes.

"At this point we know that the state of Maryland is woefully ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of legalizing marijuana here in the state,"said Ragina Averella Cooper of AAA.

AAA says Maryland should look west at the impact of recreational marijuana. The agency says in Denver, drunk driving crashes, arrests and deadly crashes are up. They also say more time is needed to better prepare law enforcement officers on detection.

"How does the user know that they're safe to drive? it's not like alcohol where you can say at .08 you're considered legally drunk," Cooper said.

A 2017 Gallup poll showed 64 percent of Americans were in favor of legalizing marijuana, but opponents worry Maryland could be headed for a similar trap.

"We're a firm believer in history, and we all know that history tends to repeat itself," said Mervyn Jones of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

If approved, Maryland would join nine other states where recreational marijuana is legal.

Lawmakers would have to approve the bill before Marylanders could vote on it.

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