Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown on Friday edged a small step further toward acceptance of eventual legalization of marijuana in Maryland, telling lawmakers he applauds the steps Colorado and Washington have taken to allow regulated use of the drug.

Brown, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, said he remains opposed to legalization now, saying Maryland should observe the results in those two states before taking that step. But he told the all-Democratic Baltimore House delegation that eventually "that may be the way to go."

"I applaud Colorado and Washington for moving ahead on this issue," Brown said.

The lieutenant governor later told reporters that his position was still a "red light" on legalization but added that he is keeping an open mind on the topic. He repeated his call for decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana and strongly supported a less restrictive approach than the O'Malley administration has previously taken toward medical use of the drug.

Brown's statements appeared to move him a little closer to that of one of his opponents, Del. Heather R. Mizeur, who supports legalization and regulation of marijuana. She has also called for taxing it to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten education.

The other Democrat in the race, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, support decriminalization but not legalization. However, he said this week that he believes the United States may be moving in the direction of legalization -- just as it has with same-sex marriage.

Brown also opened the door to what he said could be a controversial move to recruit high-ranking officers from other departments for high ranks in the Maryland State Police.

In response to a question from Baltimore Del. Nathaniel Oaks, who complained about the low percentage of African-Americans in the Maryland State Police, Brown said the state may need to recruit talent from other states to fill positions of major and lieutenant colonel in the state police. The state now requires hiring for those positions from within the department.

Brown said it takes at least 10-15 years to progress through the ranks to qualify for those positions -- making it harder to increase diversity at high levels of the state police.

The lieutenant governor said opening up top ranks to people from outside the state force might not win easy acceptance from state troopers -- even those who are African-American.