Hogan vetoes marijuana decriminalization bill

Possession of marijuana paraphernalia as well as smoking in public or while driving will remain criminal offenses for another year after Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a decriminalization bill that passed the General Assembly.

In a statement issued Friday, Hogan cited uncertainty the bill created because it eliminated criminal sanctions for use of marijuana in a public place, instead establishing a civil offense punishable by a $500 fine. The bill also failed to criminalize using marijuana while driving.


Carroll County State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo and the Maryland State's Attorney's Association pointed out the deficiencies in the bill during the legislative session then campaigned for Hogan to veto it.

"I certainly had heard that he was leaning that way and I'm certainly pleased," DeLeonardo said of the governor's veto.


The bill attempted to correct an oversight from the 2014 legislation that made possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense but left the bag, rolling paper or other container of marijuana a criminal offense.

DeLeonardo said police in Carroll and most jurisdictions have ceased writing criminal citations for possession of marijuana paraphernalia when it is associated with less than 10 grams of marijuana because they expected paraphernalia to be decriminalized. This practice will not change following Friday's veto.

In his statement, Hogan said he understood the General Assembly was attempting to correct the unintended consequences of last year's law, but it created too many legal uncertainties.

Some also expressed concern about what the bill meant for probable cause searches, particularly of vehicles, based on the odor of marijuana detected by an officer or a positive alert by a drug-sniffing dog.

"It would certainly have taken away a tool that we use," DeLeonardo said.

The issue is expected to come up in next year's legislative session, according to DeLeonardo, and he expects to be in Annapolis again arguing to keep smoking in public and in cars illegal.

Del. Warren Miller, R-District 9A, who has been a member of the House of Delegates for 13 years, said when a governor vetoes a bill, the normal routine is to wait until the next normally scheduled legislative session before addressing it.

"What typically happens, after we reconvene session, we will take up those veto overrides," Miller said.

During his tenure, he said, there have only been a handful of special sessions and none that related to veto overrides under the O'Malley administration.

He also said that while the president of the state Senate and the speaker of the House have the power to call a special session to address vetoed bills, it's rare in the extreme that they execute it.

"[A special session] can be called, but its normally for a particularly important issue," Miller said. "It's usually reserved for a big issue that needs to be resolved before session reconvenes."

In order for the legislature to override a veto, a three-fifths vote is needed in both chambers.






Recommended on Baltimore Sun