House panel rejects marijuana decriminalization, sets study

Holding out against rising public sentiment in favor of less stringent marijuana laws, the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to reject a move to treat possession of small amounts of the drug as a civil offense.

Instead, the committee amended the Senate-passed decriminalization bill to turn it into a measure setting up a task force to study possible changes in marijuana laws.

The move effectively ends efforts in Maryland this year to liberalize laws on recreational use of marijuana. The House and Senate have both passed bills to create a workable medical marijuana program, but they have to work out differences before Monday night if the bill is to pass.

The Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland issued a statement saying it is "deeply disappointed" in the House action.

"Seventeen states have already decriminalized marijuana possession, and Maryland is far behind the times," the statement said.

The Judiciary Committee's action does not come as a surprise. House Speaker Michael E. Busch signaled early in the session that he opposed legalization or decriminalization. Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. also signaled his opposition, delaying a vote on the bill until the last week of the General Assembly session.

The committee rejected decriminalization even though polls have shown a strong majority of Marylanders and Americans support either decriminalization or legalization.



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