Any chance of Maryland decriminalizing marijuana this year went up in smoke on Wednesday, as a House committee amended two marijuana bills to study whether it should decriminalize the drug.
The House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to advance House Bill 880 and Senate Bill 364, bills that in their original form would have loosened the state's marijuana laws.
But the committee only approved the bills after completely revamping the measures to instead set up "The Task Force on Marijuana Decriminalization and Diversion."
The move likely snuffs out any chance the General Assembly had of decriminalizing the drug this year.
One of the bills still must pass both the House and Senate in the same form by the end of the General Assembly's 90-day session on Monday for the task force idea to move forward.
Under the amended bills, a task force would study and make recommendations regarding whether Maryland should decriminalize marijuana, and if so, what the details of such a plan to decriminalize the drug should be.
The committee also would be charged with studying and making recommendations on whether Maryland should implement "a program or programs for diversion or treatment of people whose marijuana use has reached problematic levels, and if so, what the details of such a program or programs should be."
The task force wouldn't have to report back to the governor and the General Assembly until Dec. 31, 2015.
The task force would consist of a member of the Senate, a member of the House, the Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Secretary of State Police, the executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention and the public defender.
If the measure passes and is signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley, the governor also would appoint to the task force a state's attorney, a county police chief, a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union, a representative of the NAACP and a representative of a nonprofit organization that studies those affected by drug addiction.
The governor also would appoint a representative from a nonprofit that supports lowering marijuana penalties, and a representative of a group that opposes the move.
In its original form, Senate Bill 364, introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, would have decriminalized possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less.
But last year and again this year, House Judiciary Committee chairman Joe Vallario, D-Calvert, was vocal against the move.