Marijuana Decriminalization in Maryland

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Governor Martin O’Malley has announced he will be signing the recently passed bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

It’s a baby step in the right direction.

For amounts under 10 grams — well under half an ounce — the penalty will be a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second, and $500 for a third. On the third offense there will also be the possibility of a referral for mandatory drug treatment.

Court-ordered drug treatment is nearly the only reason why marijuana users ever end up in drug treatment; anecdotally, such orders are popular among treatment centers because they pad the centers’ numbers with easily treated pot users, who would otherwise usually quit on their own anyway.

Penalties will remain as they are for possession of larger amounts of pot, for distributing, for intent to distribute — a notoriously flexible category — and of course for all other drugs.

It’s far from a perfect measure, but it’s better than what we had before. How’s your state doing?

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54 thoughts on “Marijuana Decriminalization in Maryland

  1. Listening to the radio (both here and in Colorado), it seems that the best (defined as “most enthusiastic”) opposition to marijuana legalization is the Anti-Drunk Driving Advocate.

    It’s not “this will lead to heroin!”, and it’s not “this will lead to reduced productivity!”, let alone “won’t someone think about The Children?” but “PEOPLE WILL DRIVE STONED NOW!” and there’s never any, any at all, acknowledgement that marijuana might have been around prior to the passage of this law nor a nod to any numbers that might have been measured in any of the other places where similar laws might have passed and what numbers they’ve seen. (Seriously: I find the lack of a “In Colorado, they’ve seen a four hundred and twenty percent increase in stoned driving!” conspicuous by its absence in these interviews.)

    All that to say: the opposition to decriminalization/legalization seems to be showing up with less and less enthusiasm (and showing up less and less).

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      • (That’s a great ad.)

        I’ve not watched any television so my experiences are limited to the wasteland that is radio. The NPR station out here is the only one that I thought was likely to put its back into finding opposition to the decriminalization (I didn’t even bother listening to the Morning Zoo guys who, in their enthusiasm/idiocy, strike me as being exceptionally likely to provide the best arguments against having done this.)

        And the best argument that NPR aired was from the Drunk Driving people.

        A handful of questions I have (and I doubt we have numbers for these… yet):
        How much worse than drunk driving is stoned driving? The stories I’ve heard are all of the form “A drunk guy will take a curve 20 miles faster than he should and end up upside down… a stoned guy will stop at a stop sign and wait for it to turn green.” If those stories are true, it strikes me that stoned driving, while still a hazard, might be less hazardous than drunk driving.

        To what extent will stoned drivers be replacing drunk drivers (as opposed to being added to the number of hazards out there)?

        Is there anyone out there who is likely to smoke and drive who is not already doing so?

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      • Tests have generally found that people who drive stoned are indeed impaired in their reactions, but not by as much as those who’ve been drinking or who are talking on cellphones. While drunks generally drive less cautiously than sober people – compounding their impairment with recklessness – stoned people tend to feel their impairment and drive more cautiously – partially compensating for it.

        I suspect there may even be people who are safer drivers when they have toked up a little bit, though mostly that’s taking them from terribly unsafe drivers to merely worse than average – people who tend to drive fast and aggressively, and think they are exceptionally good and competent drivers. A bit of pot can calm them the heck down.

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      • I absolutely agree that it’s a bad idea to driving impaired – by drugs legal or not, extreme tiredness, sickness, or leaving the sunshade in the windshield.

        Anyone who’s a sufficiently bad driver that being a little stoned makes them a safer driver, probably shouldn’t be driving at all.

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      • I suspect there may even be people who are safer drivers when they have toked up a little bit,

        Somewhere (maybe on one of Gupta’s specials?) I saw that it also pertains to the experience level of the smoker. Infrequent smokers are much more impaired than daily smokers, who sometimes show relatively little performance impact (and occasionally even a little bit of improvement).

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    • I seem to recall a study done in the UK that found fewer accidents from driving under the influence of weed; it seemed it people drove slower.

      But this was a long time ago, and in the UK, and of course, American’s have the best weed on Earth. . .

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      • I remember a similar study from awhile back (maybe it was the same one?). As I recall, the finding was that while stoned drivers were somewhat more likely to get into accidents than sober drivers, they were noticeably less likely to get into accidents than drunk drivers and, when they did get into accidents, the average speed was several miles below the average speed of sober accidents.

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    • There’s a funny thing about my favorite hobby of endurance running. I find that it massively heightens my sense of smell. Like, I can run by someone’s house and get a distinct sense of what it smells like on the inside.

      And let me tell you… my fellow Marylanders really, really, really like to go out driving on Saturday and Sunday mornings and smoke up in their cars.

      I actually wouldn’t mind it at all, except for the fact that I’m running, and they’re driving while impaired.

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    • If you don’t want people to drive stoned or intoxicated than you simply increase funding on public transportation to acceptable levels for a developed, first world country.

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      • I see it as a win-win situation. We get rid of some rather dumb and puritanical laws, decrease the jail population and the money spent on putting people in prison that really shouldn’t be there, police can focus on actual criminals, and our ill-thought dependence on the automobile is curbed. Whats not to like?

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      • No, really. I invite you to the suburbs. Even with busing, you’re not going to cover everywhere. And you’re never getting everyone onto a bus unless you want to seize everyone’s cars.

        I repeat, with emphasis: People say libertarians are glib. Hah.

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      • And try my neck of the woods; where there are about 5,000 people living in a region that covers about 300 square miles (this is an estimate). Just from one end of our school district to the other, is a drive of about 70 miles, and there are about 1,300 kids in attending the schools.

        Busses are one of the biggest expenses.

        Though there might be some potential to provide transportation for non-students on those school bus runs that goes unexplored.

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      • There are obviously wide-stretches of the United States were public transportation makes no sense because of low population density and sprawl. Its also readily apparent that lots of people would never get on a bus, tram, or train because they love to drive. That being said, mass transit is woefully undeveloped in this country and we have many densely populated metro areas that good really use it. Even traditionally car culture metros like Houston, LA, Dallas, and Salt Lake City are increasing funding on transit out of necessity.

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      • Well fine. Just don’t congratulate yourself for solving the problem at hand.

        Mass transit may or may not be a good idea right now, but I imagine that crash-proof self-driving cars aren’t too far off, and they will certainly solve it.

        After that: Drinking and driving? That’s just what cars are for, man.

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      • Totally; though since we’re a major tourist destination, having some transportation from, say Portland, would be nice. (We have the second-largest bed-base in the state, after Bar Harbor, more beds for rent then Portland.) If there were reliable bus or train service here; we’d be able to compete for conference business that we’re currently unable to, and we’d be able to attract visitors that don’t want to rent a car.

        (We do have a bus service in the winter that runs from the village to the ski area and back; it’s free, and funded by local businesses. In the summer, the same buses do a similar thing in Bar Harbor.)

        I come from the not-so-proud tradition (1970’s style) of teenage entertainment = driving around in overloaded cars, drinking and smoking, often throwing major parties in some poor farmer’s remote field. I’m sort of amazed so many of my peers survived.

        But there are two distinct transportation issues here; one is local transportation, the other is connection to the rest of the world. Local public transport definitely matters in urban areas; Portland has a bus system, but it’s so rare that people don’t use it. For rural areas, the problem is more of one of getting in and out of the area; the lack of bus/train service to other places is pretty huge.

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      • One of the things that drove me nuts back home was that all of this money was spent on rail and the hours of operation ended roughly an hour before Last Call. It was also around this time that the mayor, in his ultimate wisdom, decided to shut down after-hours clubs after there was a fire at one.

        It seemed like they were making an effort to get drunk drivers on the road.

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      • it goes against my libertarianish tendencies to require businesses to do something they don’t want to do because it’s not that profitable, but I wouldn’t object to a law that required bars and nightclubs to stay open 1-3 hours past Last Call, serving water/soda/snacks only. Right now they close the minute they can’t sell alcohol anymore, with the effect of turning a bunch of drunks straight out into the street. Give people an hour or two to sober up, or at least wait comfortably for a cab or a friend.

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    • And Colorado municipalities are likely contributing to the problem. Lots of them are deciding that pot shops can’t be located in their city, so people drive farther to buy and are tempted to try a sample before driving home.

      Way back (by the standards of most of the people here), Nebraska was one of the group of states that lowered its drinking age following adoption of the 26th amendment. One of the reasons for it was that Kansas already allowed access to 3.2% beer at age 18. Kids from colleges close enough to the state line would drive across and get drunk on 3.2 (strong young kidneys required), then drive back to campus.

      Nebraska was unusual in that they only dropped the legal age to 19. They didn’t want to go down to 18 because too many kids reached that age during their senior year in high school. And while you could vote and enlist voluntarily in the military at 18, 19 was the age at which the federal government was willing to snatch you up involuntarily and ship you off to SE Asia to kill people.

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  2. I suspect California’s nudge nudge wink wink medical marijuana law is going to be the way it goes for a while.

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    • Recreational use will be on the ballots widely across the West where citizen initiatives are relatively easy. At a guess, California approves it in 2016. Such initiatives will pass in some surprising places for surprising reasons: conservatives who view it as a way to thumb their noses at the federal government, people who buy the argument that anything that reduces the power of the Mexican drug cartels is a good thing, etc. We’ve reached a tipping point, and things are going to accelerate rapidly.

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  3. New York plans on incrimental decriminalization but progress seems to have stalled. We are capable of some incredible social conservatism at times despite our reputation as a liberal haven. New York pioneered tough drug laws under Nelson Rockefeller and it doesn’t look like thats going to change anytime soon. We were also the last state to adopt no-fault divorce.

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      • Chris, if upstate New York was really an extension of Canada than our politics would be much more liberal. Kazzy is right, its an upstate/downstate divide but you do have pockets of conservatism in Westchester and the Long Island suburbs to.

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      • Lee, yeah, I was just making a joke about City chauvinism. It’s not uncommon for me to hear someone from New York talking about people from upstate (everything but the boroughs and, depending on who you talk to, Long Island) not actually being from New York, and I’ve frequently heard the rest of the state referred to as Canada.

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      • I’ve never heard that. Though I do know some people who grew up on the NY-Canada border and they loved going to Canada to drink legally at 18 or 19.

        Though sometimes it is fun to tease them and refer to Dutchess County as upstate. Dutchess County is about 2 hours north of NYC and there is a commuter rail to NYC via Metro North.

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      • I beg to differ. I live in Orange now and Yonkers before that (which is technically in Westchester but isn’t really in Westchester). People consider me “upstate”. SUNY Downstate is in Brooklyn. Some folks consider everything north of 125th to be upstate. People are weird.

        Westchester is conservative in a largely WASP-ish way. My area has guns-and-religion folk. And I’m less than 50 miles from Manhattan. It gets real country, real fast.

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  4. One small (and anecdotal) data point on the cultural change:

    Yesterday at my knitting circle, we discussed the health problems of aging dogs. One member had a dog that’s 14, and beginning to suffer in all the expected ways.

    I suggested a marijuana tincture to ease some of this suffering; and the response was,”What a great idea.” Just a year ago, it would have been, “Oh, that’s illegal, and I wouldn’t know where to get it. . .” (And btw, it still is illegal — likely a misdemeanor. You cannot get, far as I know, a recommendation from your vet for your pet.)

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  5. This is one area where a higher level of decentralization seems to be serving the US well. As far as I’m aware, all provinces in Canada have the same national criminal code, so we won’t be decriminalizing pot until we’re able to do so federally.

    Fortunately, two of our three major parties support decriminalization or legalization. Unfortunately, the other one currently has a majority government.

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    • It’s still illegal under federal code, with consequences. For example, there are funny federal banking rules which make it difficult for a pot business in Colorado to get regular banking services — accounts, credit card processing, etc. It looks like there are going to be non-bank financial companies offering those services to the pot businesses, but absent some court decisions, it’s unclear whether that work-around is legal or not.

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  6. In Chicago, marijuana has theoretically been decrminialized by the city council, but I understand that cops can still arrest you for it and you can still go to jail instead of paying the fine. (I might very well be wrong on all this. But there was a city council ordinance very recently that changed the default penalty to a fine.)

    Illinois has a medical marijuana law, but I think one has to suffer from one of a very narrow list of approved ailments. It’s not like California is or Colorado was.

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