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Candidates for House of Delegates, Senate district seats discuss legalizing marijuana

Though a bill to legalize marijuana didn't pass the Maryland General Assembly last legislative session, it did gain powerful allies.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. publicly supported the measure, along with gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur. Others haven't taken the measure off the table for future debates despite the bills dying in both the House and the Senate this legislative session.

But as Colorado and Washington foray into the uncharted territory of taxing and regulating marijuana, the debate to legalize will likely continue to crop up in Maryland and nationwide. And new marijuana legislation did pass in the state this year, as Maryland lawmakers voted to decriminalize the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.

Five Republicans are running for House of Delegates District 4, and voters can select three candidates in the June 24 primary to move on to the November general election. One Democrat is running unopposed.

Five are vying to become a District 9A delegate with two remaining on the November ballot. The two Democrats will automatically move on to the general election.

Two Republicans are running for the state Senate District 4 seat. One will move onto the general election, and face the one Democrat running for the seat. One Republican is running unopposed for state Senate in District 9 and will face one of the two Democrats vying to for the spot in the November election.

The Times asked candidates if they would vote for or against legalizing marijuana, and why.

House of Delegates District 4 Republicans

Kathy Afzali: I am adamantly opposed to the legalization of any drugs, including marijuana. Every family I know has been touched in some way by drug addiction. My family is no exception. Marijuana is a gateway drug that has terrible effects on young developing brains. Early use has been linked to any number of brain disorders, including permanently lowering the IQ of users. This is scientific and documented and cannot be minimized. The drugs in our schools are worse than ever and now is not the time to tell kids that it doesn't really matter and pot is no big deal. I am a no vote, most definitely!

Barrie Ciliberti: Did not respond to multiple calls and emails.

Wendi Peters: I would vote against the bill. I do not support the legalization of marijuana. I agree with the Drug Enforcement Agency Position on Marijuana dated April 2013 which states that legalization of marijuana "will come at the expense of our children and public safety."

Kelly Schulz: I would not support the legalization of marijuana.

David Vogt III: The measure that was introduced and discussed earlier this year had many flaws, and it attempted to solely address the issue without consideration of other aspects of the law. I believe that legislators have the responsibility of knowing exactly what they are voting for, understanding the implications of the bill, and studying how laws can be improved. I would vote "No" on this measure, especially if the bill being voted on had clear and obvious flaws and shortcomings. We have seen how our state government handles building a website for a healthcare exchange; I don't exactly have much faith in government's ability to handle sweeping changes to drug law.

House of Delegates District 4 Democrat

Gene Stanton: I would vote to take marijuana out of the hands of criminals and put its regulation into hands of the Maryland Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau. We are much better off regulating and taxing this drug, as we do with other drugs like tobacco and alcohol, to keep it out of the hands of people under the age of 21and persons who drive under the influence.

Senate District 4 Republicans

David Brinkley: I disagree with legalization of marijuana. There are 3 conversations ongoing about marijuana: 1) Medical marijuana, which as a cancer survivor I have supported and sponsored; 2) limited decriminalization for small amounts (under 10 grams), which I supported, so that our courts and resources can focus on dangerous criminals and divert those cited into treatment programs; and, 3) legalization, much like Colorado, which I oppose. I don't think it ought to be legal, but I definitely support the shift from criminal to civil penalties for simple possession.

Michael Hough: I voted against decriminalizing marijuana, David Brinkley voted for it. I am opposed to both the legalization and the decriminalization of marijuana. I am a member of the Judiciary Committee, so I studied the legislation and sat in on the bill hearings. I had a number of fundamental problems with the legislation, the primary one being that legalizing marijuana is contrary to federal law so there is no legal way to obtain this drug. Marijuana is a gateway drug. Maryland is experiencing serious drug problems and we need to take a stand against illegal drug use, not give in because of popular opinion. Legalization of marijuana will lead to more driving and workplace accidents and sends a terrible pro-message to young people.

Senate District 4 Democrat

Dan Rupli:

I would take a little time to study the effects of recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington State, which are the only two states that have legalized its use and possession. If the results are positive in those states, I could support such legalization and the increased tax benefits that it would provide our state.

House of Delegates District 9A Republicans

Christopher Bouchat: Decriminalize, regulate and tax just like alcohol and tobacco. The war on marijuana is a complete failure and drains our society of funding that would be better used on education. Since Carroll County is a agricultural county it would be an economic win for the farming community. There are numerous economic products such as, fiber and oil that can be harvested from a most profitable crop, which was once a staple in colonial Maryland.

Trent Kittleman: The proposal to legalize marijuana raises both social as well as legal issues. This year, Maryland reclassified the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana to be subject to a civil fine rather than criminal sanctions. However, It is not at all clear that Maryland can unilaterally legalize marijuana. Under Federal law, marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin, The federal law makes no distinction between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana and views marijuana as highly addictive and having no medical value. Other states have legalized marijuana, and the first case likely to be tested in the judicial system will be heard in Washington state, later this year. At minimum, the federal law should recognize the medical value of marijuana and allow doctors to make the decision to prescribe marijuana to ease the pain of critically patients.

Warren Miller: I have voted against and am strictly opposed to legalization of Marijuana, it is currently against federal law to possess or use for any reason.

Kyle Lorton: I can see both sides of the issue relative to the legalization of marijuana. If marijuana is legalized the price will go down and hence will negatively impact the drug dealer and possibly lesson the crime that occurs now in the "illegal drug world". On the other hand, marijuana is a "leading" entry drug that can allow an individual to want to try other more potent drugs. Before Maryland debates this subject, I would like to see what occurs in the states of Colorado and Washington where marijuana has been legalized. Maryland does not need to be a state on the forefront of legalizing marijuana. If I had to decide today, I would oppose the legalization of marijuana.

Frank Mirable: Against legalization but for greater access for medical applications. Many say it makes no sense to attack cigarette smoking claiming the "costs to society" while essentially promoting pot smoking, I agree. Decriminalizing marijuana may unclog our jails of first time personal consumption offenders but where are they purchasing their marijuana, local convenience stories or getting Groupon alerts to catch the latest buzz? So, the next push from marijuana activists will be legalization and creating a vehicle of licensing and taxation under the guise of revenues for schools. You can just hear the arguments of civil rights for "access" to pot. Why not focus on our economy and making Maryland business friendly promoting jobs and economic growth to occupy our time and to generate tax revenues instead of promoting mind altering drugs to occupy Main Street.

House of Delegates District 9A Democrats

James Morrow: It would still be illegal federally so it's really more of a symbolic vote. If we could better spend law enforcement dollars elsewhere, or even generate tax revenue from it, it could make sense but I'd need to see a better plan for how treat the associated health and safety risks.

Walter Carson: Possession of small portions of marijuana were decriminalized this past session. Law enforcement officials question this decision. It creates a conflict with federal law that still makes possession of any amount of marijuana illegal. I am in no rush to legalize marijuana. We should wait for a year or so to learn from the experience of Washington state and Colorado. If their experience is positive, then Maryland can consider legalization. I am concerned with the unfair impact that the so called "war on drugs" has had on minorities living in this state. The recent move to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana is a move in the right direction to alleviate this inequality.

Senate District 9 Republican

Gail Bates: I do not support legalization and voted against the de-criminalization legislation.

Senate District 9 Democrats

Ryan Frederic: There are many unanswered questions that surround the legalization of marijuana that need to be answered before we can pass such legislation. However, I don't believe a young adult's entire life should be negatively affected because he/she is arrested for an offense involving small amounts of marijuana.

Daniel Medinger: I would vote to decriminalize because current marijuana laws have proven to be unproductive from a law enforcement perspective. However, I am uncomfortable with a move to legalize a drug that has been identified as causing more health concerns — including cancer — than cigarettes. We can learn from other states. Also, decriminalization should include a promotion strategy to discourage youth and others from beginning to use marijuana.

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