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State police back Senate bill to lower threshold for marijuana felony charge


ANNAPOLIS -- Testimony from Maryland State Police gave credibility to a drug bill sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Haines, a District 5 Republican, a Senate leader said yesterday.

The bill has an excellent chance of passing the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a District 7 Democrat who is committee vice chairman.

Senate Bill 75 would allow authorities to charge a person found smuggling 10 pounds or more of marijuana into the state with a felony. Current law says a person may not be charged with a felony unless he is found smuggling 100 pounds of marijuana or more.

The committee heard testimony on the bill Tuesday.

Lt. C. Thomas Bowers of the state police Bureau of Drug Enforcement in Columbia testified that the change is needed because street prices for marijuana have risen since 1980, when the law was written.

In the past 10 years, street prices for marijuana have increased about 1,000 percent, he said, while prices of other drugs smuggled into the state have not jumped as significantly.

Smugglers also are bringing pot into the state in smaller amounts because increased enforcement efforts have made it harder to bring in larger amounts, Lieutenant Bowers said.

Anne Arundel County police also support Senator Haines' bill.

Senator Stone said, "The testimony was well documented by police."

He said he would vote for the bill as written, but heard other committee members say they might want to increase the minimum of 10 pounds. They did not give a specific amount, he said.

Senator Stone said he was confident the bill would pass the committee.

No one testified against the bill.

Also on Tuesday, the Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony on a bill introduced by Senator Haines that would make it a felony for an adult to bring a minor into Maryland to sell drugs.

The bill passed the Senate last year, but was defeated by five votes in a House committee.

Senator Stone said he supports the bill this year, but did not get a feeling at the hearing for how other committee members would vote.

Senator Haines said no one testified against Senate Bill 51.

The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Maryland State Police testified in favor of it.

Many drug dealers from New York ask juveniles to travel to Maryland to sell drugs on the streets, state police said. The dealers also recruit local youths, they said.

New York dealers have been using juveniles to sell drugs in Baltimore, Frederick and Salisbury, police said.

The practice usually protects the dealer from arrest, and it places a burden on juvenile authorities, Senator Haines said.

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