Bill would put the right to smoke, grow pot in Maryland constitution

A bill would put the right to smoke and grow marijuana in the Maryland Constitution.

The right to use and grow marijuana would be enshrined in the state constitution -- alongside such freedoms as speech and religion -- under legislation that will receive a hearing in Annapolis Tuesday.

Del. David Moon, a freshman Democrat from Montgomery County, has proposed a measure that would give all people over 21 the right to "use, possess and cultivate" marijuana -- subject to the General Assembly's right to tax sales of the drug.

If the legislation were to pass, which is not likely given the legislature's cautious approach to even medical use of marijuana, the proposed amendment would be placed on the 2018 ballot for the voters to decide.

Moon said he is proposing legalization as a constitutional amendment because he found out during discussions of marijuana legislation last year that many of his colleagues favored legalization but were reluctant to vote for it for fear of a backlash from voters. Moon said by putting it on the ballot as an amendment, lawmakers can leave the final decision up to voters.

"If the politicians are too scared to touch the issue due to the stigma from the failed drug war, I think they should get out of the way and let the voters decide," he said. Moon said he believes Maryland voters -- like those that approved legalization in Washington, D.C., and Colorado -- are far ahead of elected officials on the marijuana issue.

The bill is one of at least nine pot-related measures the House Judiciary Committee will consider during a marijuana marathon Tuesday afternoon. Moon's legislation is the only one up for a hearing that involves a constitutional amendment.

The amendment would direct any revenue from taxing marijuana to purposes including education, mental health services and substance abuse treatment. It also specifies that employers would not have to allow their workers to use the drug. Nor would it override laws forbidding driving while under the influence of marijuana.

The other marijuana measures the committee will consider are far less sweeping. Some would go easier on users, while others would come down harder on those who smoke pot in public or while in a vehicle.

Among the other bills on the agenda is Del. Dan K. Morhaim's proposal to treat possession of small amounts of other illegal drugs the same way state law has treated marijuana since decriminalization in 2014.

The Baltimore County Democrat, a physician, has proposed to make possession of less than 10 grams of heroin, cocaine or other illegal drugs a civil offense punishable by fines.

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