It is a crime to drink alcohol behind the wheel of a car. It is also a crime to drink alcohol in a public place such as the neighborhood park. I believe the vast majority of Marylanders agree with these two common sense measures.
It should be a crime to smoke marijuana behind the wheel of a car or to smoke marijuana in public. I am also certain that the vast majority of Marylanders agree with this.
Yet if the legislature overrides the veto of Senate Bill 517 it will not be a crime to smoke marijuana while driving or to smoke marijuana in public.
Last year, the legislature decriminalized the possession of the drug paraphernalia used to smoke or ingest small amounts of marijuana. This made sense because the legislature had previously decriminalized the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. All we asked was that in doing so, the legislature also make it a crime for a person to smoke marijuana in public and while driving. Lawmakers did not.
Decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and its paraphernalia without these exceptions leaves police officers with no guidance as to whether they can pull over a person who is smoking a joint while driving. Nor is it clear whether the police can search a car from which an odor of marijuana is present. Not knowing what the rules are on this issue means that the courts will have to decide, but that may be years away. Because of these concerns, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill. That veto should stand.
How did it come to this?
Two years ago the legislature made a sweeping change to our marijuana laws. The possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana became a civil offense. However, the legislature failed to do anything about the paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana. This state was in the odd position of having the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana be a civil violation, while possessing the pipe used to smoke it was a crime.
In the 2015 session, the legislature tried to fix this inconsistency with Senate Bill 517. There were a number of problems with the bill that passed, and that is why Maryland's elected state's attorneys, chiefs of police and sheriffs supported a veto of the bill.
I am willing to accept the will of the people with regard to the core issue of the simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. I get it, times are changing. Senate Bill 517 however creates problems far beyond the clear will of the people. I am certain that the citizens of Maryland do not want someone openly smoking marijuana next to their child at the playground or in any other public place. In addition, none of us want people smoking marijuana as they drive on the streets and highways of this state.
Even in states that have legalized marijuana, most make it a crime to smoke in public. All have made it a crime to consume marijuana while driving. This is all we are asking. It just makes sense.
I have drafted a very reasonable common sense compromise that eliminates making it a crime to possess small amounts of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia while at the same time makes it a crime to smoke marijuana behind the wheel or in public. Let's strive for common sense compromise and not override the veto of Senate Bill 517.
We should protect our children and the people on the roads of this state as we accept the changing times.
Please contact your local legislator before they vote on Senate Bill 517 next week. Tell them vote no to the override.
Scott D. Shellenberger is state's attorney for Baltimore County; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.