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Md. House Of Delegates Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- For supporters, it's a legislative high. Maryland's House of Delegates has passed a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Alex DeMetrick has details of the vote.

It's not a law yet, but it's right on the edge. If the governor goes along, getting busted for pot won't mean jail, provided those joints don't contain too much marijuana.

Right now in Maryland, if you're caught with enough marijuana to roll one joint or enough to fill a greenhouse, it's a criminal offense. But in a Saturday night session, the House of Delegates took up a Senate bill that would change that law.

"They key is there will be civil penalties instead of criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana," said Del. Keiffer Mitchell Jr., (D) Baltimore.

Small means 10 grams or less, which would result in a citation and possibly a fine, but no arrest and no criminal record. Seventeen other states have similar laws.

And for the next several hours, delegates were speaking their minds for:

"This keeps it illegal, but says the punishment is going to be under a civil citation," one delegate said.

And against:

"House of Delegates, you can do better. Our people deserve better. Our kids deserve a better message, and this is not it," said Del. Michael McDermott, (R) Somerset County.

And despite a flurry of last-minute amendments by Republicans, the green lights of those in favor passed the bill.

"We're very excited this happened. We did not think we would be able to pull it out in the last couple of days of the session. We just didn't give up," said Rachelle Yeung, Marijuana Policy Project.

For Delegate Heather Mizeur, who is backing liberal marijuana laws in her run for governor, the question is will the current governor go along.

"We've done this tonight in the House. The Senate has already acted. We'll send this bill to the governor and we really expect and hope that he will sign it," Mizeur said.

It's something Governor O'Malley has been cool to in the past, although his office says he will keep an open mind when the bill crosses his desk.

The Marijuana Policy Coalition released this statement, saying:

"Support for comprehensive marijuana policy reform is growing stronger in Maryland. Legislative leaders and activists are not giving up, and we will continue to work together to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition behind us.

"The bill approved by the House will prevent tens of thousands of Marylanders from receiving criminal records simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

"This is a step forward, but the General Assembly still needs to catch up with those who elected them. Most Maryland voters do not think adults should be punished simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. It's time to eliminate the underground market for marijuana and replace it with a system in which it is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol."

Monday is the last day of the legislative session.

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