ANNAPOLIS - The road to legalizing recreational use of marijuana would be a tough battle even if the governor supported it.
Wednesday, on the first day of the legislative session, Gov. Martin O'Malley voiced a strong opposition to the recreational use of marijuana, on a Baltimore radio program.
"I've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state," O'Malley told WEAA 88.9 FM.
Bills will be introduced in both the House of Delegates and the Senate this year for recreational sale of marijuana, and while most people agree that any bill legalizing marijuana in the state will ultimately fail this session, the evidence points to a shift in public perception about the drug, and to a clearer path to legalization in Maryland in the coming years.
A national Gallup poll in October found that a majority of Americans - 58 percent - for the first time said the drug should be legalized. A Goucher poll found that 51 percent of Marylanders support making marijuana use legal.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said just prior to the legislative session that he favors the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions, while House Speaker Michael Busch has said he supports marijuana use for medical purposes, but not its full legalization.
Del. Heather Mizeur, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in the June primary, is proposing legalizing marijuana and regulating and taxing it - similar to alcohol.
Her plan would mirror initiatives in Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for people 21 and older, and would fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten education in the state. Colorado began regulated sale of marijuana Jan. 1, becoming the first state to do so.
Currently, 22 states have laws enacted regarding medical marijuana.
O'Malley signed a measure in May to establish an independent 12-member medical marijuana commission within the State Department of Health. State-sanctioned research programs were not expected to be operational until 2015.
In Maryland, efforts for looser restrictions on marijuana have failed in the past. Sen. David Brinkley, R-District 4, said he co-sponsored a bill to decriminalize marijuana last year. It failed in the House of Delegates. He was successful in sponsoring a bill for medical marijuana which is now law, albeit with restrictions.
A spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said some progress has already been made in decriminalizing medical marijuana, and he is hoping to see additional reforms soon.
NORML is a leading voice in the movement to decriminalize marijuana, with a mission "to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable."
"Things are looking pretty positive," said Erik Altieri, the communications director at NORML's national headquarters in Washington, D.C. The organization also has a state chapter in Baltimore, a regional chapter in Frederick, and college chapters at Towson University and University of Maryland, College Park.
"There has been some pretty solid support, particularly in the state senate," Altieri said.
Altieri said the backing from local politicians combined with the momentum of the country leads him to believe that legalization of marijuana in Maryland could happen sooner than later.