A move is on in the House of Delegates to resurrect a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
When the Senate Bill 364 hits the House floor on Friday for a final vote, several amendments are expected to be proposed to the bill. One amendment being considered would completely strip the bill of amendments added Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, would have in its original form decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana by making it a civil offense. The bill passed the Senate in March. But the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday amended the bill Wednesday to not decriminalize the drug, but set up a task force to study decriminalization.
The bill was given preliminary approval in the House on Thursday morning. Afterward, about 20 members of the Legislative Black Caucus met to discuss plans for potentially amending the bill.
Some members of the caucus, including Dels. CT. Wilson, D-Charles, and Shawn Tarrant, D-Baltimore, said they thought a move to decriminalize the drug did need to be studied more.
But others, including Dels. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George's, and Frank Turner, D-Howard, expressed the desire to revert the bill to its original form.
"There's really nothing to study," Davis argued. "There's nothing we need to be told. We know what's going on in the community."
Senate Bill 364, as its written currently, would set up "The Task Force on Marijuana Decriminalization and Diversion."
The task force created by the amended legislation would make recommendations regarding whether Maryland should decriminalize marijuana, and if so what the details of such a plan should be.
As the panel wouldn't be required to make its recommendations until Dec. 31, 2015, any move to revisit decriminalization may be put off until the legislature's 2016 session.
The bill passed the Senate in its original form. Any bill that advances past the House will have to make it through the Senate again.
Del. Keiffer Mitchell, D-Baltimore, told the Black Caucus an amendment was being drafted to be introduced on the floor Friday that would strip the House Judiciary's changes completely and return the bill to its original form.
But the Black Caucus also discussed an option that wouldn't decriminalize marijuana in Maryland, but would strengthen the task force idea by examining certain aspects of concern to their communities.
Although African-Americans and whites use marijuana at nearly the same rate, proponents of decriminalization have argued the enforcement of marijuana laws has been far from equal. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union in __ found that blacks are about three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites.
Wilson said he was afraid decriminalizing possession of as much as 10 grams would lead to more drug dealing in African-American communities.
"We've got to study it more because in places like Baltimore City, we can't even handle our own liquor stores," Tarrant said.
The bill is expected to be read across the House floor once more on Friday. At that point, delegates can propose amendments to the legislation.
According to several delegates at the caucus meeting on Thursday, a move was not made on Thursday to strip the bill of the Judiciary Committee's amendments because it is illegal to do so on 2nd reader, under House rules.
Any bill that passes the House must go back to the Senate for final approval. Legislation must pass both chambers in the same form by the final day of the General Assembly's 90-day session on April 7.