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McIntosh adds powerful voice to legal marijuana movement

Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh joined the chorus of powerful legislators supporting legalized marijuana in Maryland.

In a Friday email to supporters, McIntosh identified the legalizing pot as one of four "the biggest, most important issues" facing the General Assembly this year. 

"Our current drug prohibition laws are wasteful and counterproductive, taking resources away from combating drug violence and promoting treatment options for those suffering with addiction," wrote McIntosh, a veteran Democrat who chairs the Environmental Matters Committee. 

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller also supports legalizing and taxing marijuana, following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington. One candidate for governor, Democrat Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County, has made legalizing pot a centerpeice of her campaign.

While several polls show a majority of the public support legalized marijuana both in Maryland and nationwide, most political observers in Annapolis do not expect it to pass over the objections of Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.  

McIntosh also put her support beind another measure to decriminalize small amounts of pot, which passed the Maryland Senate last year and has growing support among legislators in the House.

Earlier this week, Busch indicated he supported such an approach. Busch said that while he "in no way" supports recreational marijunana, he thought "there are too many kids who are in jails and prisons because of the use of marijuana. I think we'd be better off with citations and mandatory treatment." 

Last year, Maryland lawmakers approved a limited medical marijuana program that has yet to get off the ground.  O'Malley said earlier this week he expects the legislature to discuss how to expand that program during the upcoming session, but he re-iterated his longstanding opposition to legalizing the drug.

O'Malley, who rose to prominence as Baltimore's tough-on-crime mayor, said during a radio interview this week he is "not much in favor" of legalizing marijuana, saying the drug "can be a gateway to more harmful behavior." 

"I don't think the answer is to promote greater access and greater recreational abuse of drugs," the governor said. 

The issue has attracted a diverse coalition of interests backing fewer penalties for marijuana possession if not outright legalization. The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have argued in favor of legalization because studies show that African-Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to serve jail time for marijuana possession, even though both communities use the drug at roughly the same rates.  

McIntosh, an ally of the governor who was pivotal in the passage of same-sex marriage in Maryland, wrote to supporters that she believed "the early reports on legalization efforts in Colorado and Oregon show that this approach can work." 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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