A bill that would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense passed the Maryland Senate Tuesday on a 30-16 vote.
The measure now goes to the House.
The legislation, crafted to avoid handing out jail terms for possession of small amounts of marijuana, would remove any criminal component to the prohibition of marijuana possession when a person is caught with 10 grams or less -- about one-third of an ounce. The maximum fine would be a $100 fine. The current maximum is a 90-day jail term.
"It is a tremendous waste of resources," said Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, the bill's sponsor. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Maryland prosecutors don't want to put people arrested for small amounts of marijuana through the criminal justice system.
Zirkin said the measure falls short of full legalization -- as approved by Colorado and Washington voters last November. He said that by moving to decriminalization, Maryland would join such states as Mississippi and Nebraska in treating possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil infraction.