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House panel rejects right to use marijuana, stiffens penalty for public use

Marylanders still have the right to remain silent, but they won't have the right to remain high.

A House committee decisively rejected a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would have enshrined marijuana usage as a right. The panel then narrowly approved a bill that would make the use of the drug in a public place a criminal offense, as it was before 2014.

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With minimal discussion, the House Judiciary Committee killed Del. David Moon's bill that would have put the amendment on the state ballot in 2018. Moon, a Montgomery County Democrat, had argued that lawmakers wary of voting for legalization should leave the decision up to voters.

The committee sent to the House floor a bill that would make bill it a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine to smoke or otherwise use marijuana in public places.

The measure, sponsored by Washington County Republican Del. Brett Wilson, defines such places as including mass transit vehicles and indoor spaces open to the public.

Opponents argued that the measure goes against the trend in state law to avoid putting criminal offenses on people's records for relatively minor violations. But supporters said people who use marijuana in public violate the right of families who do not want children exposed to its use.

If the legislation passes the House, it faces a skeptical reception in the Senate, where there is strong resistance to recriminalizing marijuana use.

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