Friday, March 8, 2013

JuiceBlender: Maryland Democrats Warming Up to Marijuana, Death Penalty Ban Passes House Judiciary, Senate Passes Wind


Below Maryland Juice provides a few updates on Annapolis news items of interest to politicos, starting with a wave of updates regarding marijuana policy in Maryland. The issue has been moving quickly in recent weeks, giving me that sense that there's definitely something in the air:

JUICE #1: O'MALLEY ADMINISTRATION GIVES CAUTIOUS SUPPORT FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL - The Baltimore Sun today reported that Governor Martin O'Malley's administration is cautiously getting behind medical marijuana after threatening to veto the measure last year (excerpt below):
BALTIMORE SUN: Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration withdrew its opposition to legislation allowing doctors and nurses to dispense medical marijuana to patients through academic medical centers, raising prospects for passage this year.

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the state secretary of health and mental hygiene, said Friday that the administration could support the bill but only if it gave the governor the "flexibility" to suspend the program if the federal government threatened legal action over what it still classifies as an illegal drug.... Under what Sharfstein called a "yellow-light approach" to medical marijuana, the bill would allow dispensing the drug to patients with cancer, intractable pain and other conditions.

O'Malley had threatened to veto medical marijuana legislation last year.... Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler also expressed concerns....

SEN. BOBBY ZIRKIN PUSHING BILL TO SHIFT PENALTY FOR POT POSSESSION FROM JAIL TIME TO FINE  - Maryland Juice is glad to see that Gov. O'Malley is finally coming around on this issue, but I must also admit that I see his tip-toeing toward medical marijuana as a very small "victory." After all, while medical marijuana for cancer patients is a common-sense goal, I remain far more concerned about the mass incarceration of Americans -- especially for things like non-violent drug offenses. No amount of prescription dope is going to solve that bigger social problem -- and I feel that it is perhaps one of the largest unaddressed social justice issues of our time. Indeed, our continued grandfathering of the War on Drugs into Maryland policy leads to cycles of poverty, joblessness, recidivism, student loan ineligibility and more -- disproportionately affecting people of color, and subjecting young people to harassment by law enforcement.

MARYLAND SPENDS $236 MILLION ANNUALLY ON POT ENFORCEMENT - State Senator Bobby Zirkin has a bill to address these concerns by "decriminalizing"' possession of minor amounts of marijuana, and shifting the penalties from jail time to a simple fine. Amazingly, decriminalization has already passed in fifteen other states, making it a common-sense and now mainstream policy change for those who want to get serious about ending their state's participation in the failed War on Drugs. Check out this report from The Fix website (excerpt below):
THE FIX: Could Maryland be the next state to end marijuana prohibition? Yes, according to LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition).... The bill — sponsored by Democratic Senator Bobby Zirkin — seeks to decriminalize small-scale possession in the Free State....

Pot prohibition doesn’t just generate stacks of illicit cash — it also costs a great deal, according to Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron, who says that Maryland spends over $236 million per annum on marijuana enforcement. In the current era, many are asking whether that's worth the price tag. SB 297 — which  can be viewed in its entirety here — would reduce penalties for possession to a mere $100 dollar fine.

Neill Franklin carried out narcotics work for the Maryland State Police during his 34-year career.... “The current laws force police officers in Maryland to waste hour after hour processing marijuana possession arrests,” he says. “Can you imagine how many more burglaries, rapes and murders we could solve if we put these wasted man-hours toward good use? Marijuana prohibition constitutes a serious threat to public safety." With 15 other states having already decriminalized low-level marijuana possession — and others, such as Hawaii, considering it — SB 297 looks to have a fighting chance....

DEL. CURT ANDERSON INTRODUCES BILL TO TAX & REGULATE RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA - State Senator Bobby Zirkin admitted at the hearing for his marijuana decriminalization bill that he would prefer that Maryland simply legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales. A week after that hearing, Delegate Curt Anderson introduced a bill that would do just that in Maryland House. The Gazette reported on the forward-looking legislation (excerpt below):
GAZETTE: Del. Curt Anderson on Thursday introduced a bill that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Maryland, mirroring measures passed by referendum last year in Colorado and Washington.

The bill would allow Marylanders 21 and older to possess one ounce or less of marijuana, and to grow three or fewer plants in their homes. An excise tax of $50 per ounce would be collected by the state under the proposal. Plants grown at home would be required to have a state-issued zip tie attached. Each zip tie would cost $100 and be valid for one year.

Under the bill, smoking marijuana in public would be prohibited, as would driving while under the influence of marijuana. A portion of the revenue from regulating marijuana would go toward alcohol, tobacco and drug treatment. The marijuana trade would be regulated by the state comptroller’s office....

Maryland traditionally has lagged behind other progressive states when it comes to drug policy, still having not legalized medical marijuana, as 18 states and Washington, D.C., have.

SENATE PRESIDENT MIKE MILLER ENDORSES FULL-ON MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION - When asked by the Capital Gazette to comment on Del. Anderson's pot legalization bill, Senate President Mike Miller amazingly endorsed the proposal (excerpt below):
CAPITAL GAZETTE: Miller ... said he personally favors the “liberalization of marijuana laws,” and thinks marijuana should be regulated like cigarettes and alcohol.

“We’re incarcerating people for offenses that really I think they should be treated as very minor offenses, paying a fine,” Miller said. “But those are my personal views and I don’t think they’re the views of the majority of the Senate...”
Annoyingly, Senator Miller understands the connection between the United States having the world's largest prison population and our tacit consent for incarcerating people for simple drug possession -- yet he doesn't seem motivated to do anything about it. Why can't he summon some of that energy he used to steamroll casino expansion in Maryland to try and get this done?

JUICE #2: DEATH PENALTY BAN PASSES MARYLAND HOUSE JUDICIARY 14 TO 8 // ONE DEMOCRAT JOINED GOP TO OPPOSE REPEAL - Today the Maryland House Judiciary Committee approved death penalty repeal legislation in a 14 to 8 vote. Below Maryland Juice provides the roll call for the committee vote, but the short story is that it was almost a perfect party line vote. One Democrat, Delegate Keven Kelly (highlighted in blue), crossed over with the GOP in their unsuccessful attempts to defeat death penalty repeal. The measure now heads to the floor for a vote by the full body (sometime next week). There's still time to contact your representatives in the Maryland House and urge them to support repeal of the death penalty.


  1. Curt Anderson 
  2. Sam Arora
  3. Jill Carter
  4. Luke Clippinger
  5. Frank Conaway, Jr.
  6. Kathleen Dumais
  7. Susan Lee
  8. Keiffer Mitchell
  9. Sandy Rosenberg
  10. Luiz Simmons
  11. Darren Swain
  12. Kriselda Valderrama
  13. Geraldine Valentino-Smith
  14. Jeff Waldstreicher

  1. John Cluster, Jr. (R)
  2. Glen Glass (R)
  3. Michael Hough (R)
  4. Kevin Kelly (D)
  5. Susan McComas (R)
  6. Mike McDermott (R)
  7. Neil Parrott (R)
  8. Mike Smigiel (R)

  1. Chairman Joe Vallario

JUICE #3: GOVERNOR O'MALLEY'S WIND FARM PROPOSAL CLEARS STATE SENATE - Yet another signature initiative of Governor Martin O'Malley advanced in the State Legislature today. The Washington Post reports that the multi-year effort to incentivize creation of wind farms on the Maryland shore advanced today (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: After three years of debate, countless revisions and lots of downsizing, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to subsidize development of offshore wind energy passed the state Senate on Friday, all but ensuring final approval in coming days.

The victory for O’Malley (D) on a signature environmental initiative came as his bill to repeal the death penalty advanced in the House of Delegates and as he inched toward support of a measure to legalize medical marijuana.

The passage of the offshore wind bill, which failed in each of the past two years, would allow Maryland to seek a private developer to build a field of giant turbines off the coast of Ocean City, perhaps by 2017....

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