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The General Assembly on Monday could take the final steps to reduce penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana and increase the state's minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018.

Bills to do both took crucial steps forward on Saturday.

After a day off on Sunday, lawmakers will convene Monday morning on "Sine Die," the last day of the legislature's 90-day session, when they will work until midnight.

Actions taken Saturday will make that work a lot more interesting.

In the evening, the House of Delegates advanced a measure that could make Maryland the 18th state to decriminalize possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana.

The House voted 78-55 to pass an amended version of Senate legislation making possession of that amount of pot a civil offense, punishable by a fine, not a criminal offense that could lead to imprisonment.

The move came less than a week after Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray signed a marijuana decriminalization bill. A number of states are considering similar moves.

The Senate is expected to agree with the House's measure on Monday and send the bill on to Gov. Martin O'Malley. But the bill's chances could be hurt if it hits a snag in the Senate, as it must pass on Monday to have a shot at becoming law.

Earlier Saturday, the House Judiciary Committee returned the bill to its original form as a decriminalization measure. The committee, where the bill died last year, had amended the measure so that it authorized only a study of decriminalization.

Many legislators thought that decision killed the idea of decriminalization for this session. But the proposal was resurrected through a compromise between the Judiciary Committee's leaders and decriminalization supporters.

It's unclear if Gov. Martin O'Malley will sign the bill if it reaches his desk. Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, said Friday evening that "should the bill pass, the governor will review and make a decision then about signing."

As now written, the bill would decriminalize possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana by making it a civil offense, punishable by a fine ranging from $100 to $500.

The bill sparked a passionate debate on the House floor that lasted more than two hours. Opposition came from both Republicans and Democrats.

Del. Keiffer Mitchell, D-Baltimore, who played a key role in putting together the deal with the House Judiciary Committee leaders to revive the bill, said the measure would address the racial disparities now seen in marijuana possession arrests.

During the debate on the issue, the Legislative Black Caucus has often referred to studies that show African-Americans are arrested more often that whites for marijuana possession.

Decriminalization efforts have been promoted across the nation as an expansion of civil liberties and as a civil rights issue.

A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African-Americans are 2.9 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Maryland, and 2.4 times more likely in Anne Arundel County.

"We're sending the message that we're not going to allow small amounts of marijuana possession to ruin the lives of our young people," Mitchell said.

The ACLU study also found Maryland spent $106.7 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010.

Some opponents of the measure criticized the Judiciary Committee's quick reversal and said the bill was moving too fast.

"This has been put together on the fly like it's some sort of last ditch effort to save the world," said Del. Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico, a former police chief.

Before state law was changed in 2012, the penalty for possession of any amount of marijuana was imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000.

In 2012, the state reduced the maximum penalty for possession of less than 10 grams to a 90-day jail sentence and a $500 fine. But possession remained a criminal offense.

Under the revised bill, the fine for possession of less than 10 grams would be up to $100 for a first violation, up to $250 for a second and up to $500 for a third or subsequent violation.

The bill would also require those younger than 21 cited for possession of 10 grams or less to appear in court for their first offense.

A court would be required to refer them for an assessment for a substance abuse disorder, which could result in them having to attend a drug treatment and education program approved by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The bill originally imposed a similar requirement for first offenders younger than 18.

The measure also specifies that the reduced penalty for pot possession "may not be construed to affect the laws relating to" operating a vehicle or a vessel while under the influence, or law enforcement agencies' authority to seize vehicles involved in violations.

Minimum wage hike

The Senate on Saturday voted 34-13 to approve an increase in the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2018.

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The measure now goes back to the House. If it doesn't concur with the Senate's changes, a conference committee can be assigned to work out the differences between the two chambers' bills.

Matthew Hanson, campaign director for Raise Maryland, a coalition working to raise the minimum wage, said he expects the House to concur with the Senate changes.

"This vote today means hundreds of thousands of workers will get a pay raise," Hanson said.

During debate Saturday, senators shot down a last round of amendments to the bill.

The Senate rejected, 23-24, an amendment by Sen. Joe Getty, R-Carroll, to exempt workers employed by restaurants or similar establishments that have an annual gross income of $600,000 or less.

The bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee earlier this week set that threshold at $400,000.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, was among the majority voting for the bill. He said he wasn't fully satisfied with it, but that the measure's "time has come and we need to do it."

Others weren't so sure.

"I can't in good confidence vote for (this bill)," said Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, citing pressure on businesses to pay stormwater fees and adapt to the federal Affordable Care Act. "I worry about the consequences. I worry more people are going to lose their jobs than gain jobs."

Earlier this year Gov. Martin O'Malley threw his administration's weight behind a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

O'Malley's proposal has since been stripped of a provision that would have indexed the wage to inflation after it hits $10.10. Also removed was a proposed minimum wage hike for tipped workers, whose minimum wage under the bill would be frozen at $3.63.

In addition, the timeline for implementation has been stretched.

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Under the latest version of the bill, the minimum wage wouldn't rise until nearly two years after O'Malley wanted. The bill would hike the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015; to $8.25 on July 1, 2015; to $8.75 on July 1, 2016; to $9.25 on July 1, 2017; and to $10.10 on July 1, 2018.

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The bill includes a provision allowing employers to pay workers younger than 19 a training wage - 85 percent of the minimum wage - during their first six months.

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