Maryland Criminalizes Public Marijuana Consumption

– The Washington Times – Monday, March 21, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates on Monday passed a bill for fines up to $500 for smoking marijuana in public.

Sponsored by Delegate Brett Wilson, Washington Republican, the bill would roll back last year’s decriminalization of marijuana and make it a misdemeanor to consume marijuana in a public place.

House Democrats were split over the bill, with some arguing it would erode trust between police and troubled youth and others saying unwanted exposure to marijuana smoke is a public health issue.

Delegate Marc Korman, Montgomery Democrat, said that smoking marijuana in public already is illegal under the decriminalization law, and the bill is harsh punishment.

Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Prince George’s Democrat, argued that such a law would have a disproportionate effect on black people and the criminal records it would create would prevent many young blacks from getting higher educations and jobs.

But Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, Howard Democrat, said that she must avoid certain public spaces with her young children to prevent their breathing in secondhand marijuana smoke.

“What are we saying if we don’t pass this?” she said in a passionate floor speech.

After a lengthy floor debate, the bill was approved 102 to 34.

The bill was one of dozens of bills passed on “crossover” day, the deadline for each chamber to approve legislation and send it to the other chamber for consideration.

Among the other bills the General Assembly moved forward Monday:

The House approved a bill that would allow a parent of a child conceived of rape to terminate parental rights for the rapist. The bill is moving forward after having stalled in recent years.

The Senate passed a modest tax-relief plan, voting 37-8 to reduce taxes for the state’s top four income brackets. The plan also would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers and offer tax exemptions for people who make between $60,000 and $100,000.

The House passed a “universal” voter registration bill to automatically register residents who apply for services at the Motor Vehicle Administration and certain social agencies such as the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

The Senate approved a bill to prevent the state government from using unmanned aerial vehicles from taking photos of private residences for property tax assessment purposes. The bill passed 41-3.

The House advanced a bill that would alter the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights to help hold police officers accountable for their actions — a reaction to April’s unrest in Baltimore following the police-custody death of Freddie Gray.

A bill that would limit insurance companies and health carriers from charging most co-payments for approved contraceptives passed the Senate. Five Republicans voted against the measure.

Maryland schoolchildren are one step closer to cutting down the amount of time they can spend taking local, state and federally mandated tests. The House passed a bill to limit mandated testing to 2 percent of instructional hours, which would amount to roughly 21 hours in elementary and middle school and about 23 hours in high school.