With a House Judiciary Committee hearing set Tuesday for a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, two civil rights groups Monday called on committee chairman Joe Vallario to allow a vote on the bill.
Last year, Vallario refused to call a vote after the Senate passed similar legislation.
The Senate has once again passed a marijuana decriminalization bill sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County. Senate Bill 364 would make possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by only a fine.
But Vallario's tone has yet to change on the idea and many believe the bill won't get a vote unless Vallario's stance on decriminalization suddenly shifts or he comes down with a case of disrupted short-term memory.
Still, the ACLU and NAACP issued a release on Monday, calling on Vallario to quit bogarting the bill.
The groups said Vallario "has been lobbying his committee members to reject the measure in 2014."
The ACLU paid for a poll of three legislative districts, including Vallario's. The poll of 718 registered voters in Districts 15, 27A and 40 was conducted by Public Policy Polling.
The poll results show a majority of those voters (66 percent are Democrats and 17 percent identify themselves as "very liberal") prefer possession of small amounts of marijuana be a civil offense.
Sixty percent of respondents said they thought making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense is a groovy idea. Thirty-three percent said they preferred it remain a criminal offense, and seven percent weren't sure.
But it's unclear if the ACLU and NAACP's efforts will mean anything on April 7 when the General Assembly closes up shop for the year.
Late Monday after the Senate adjourned, Zirkin said he hadn't talked to Vallario about the bill in "a week or so."
Zirkin said he hoped those at Tuesday's 1 p.m. hearing in the House Judiciary Committee asked "a lot of good questions." He said hopefully those questions will lead to answers sought by some lawmakers, including Vallario, who remain on the fence about the bill.
"I think most people know where they are on medical marijuana," Zirkin said. "This is a much bigger step. For some people, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars put into advertising over the decades on the war on drugs. It's hard to change people's preset opinion on things."