Maryland House lawmakers passed a bill that would raise the threshold of criminal possession of marijuana.

The measure to expand Maryland’s cannabis decriminalization policy means possession of up to one ounce of marijuana would be considered a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor. Currently, those found with 10 grams of cannabis could face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Maryland of House of Delegates voted 94-43 in support of the bill, HB 550, which is sponsored by Del. Nick Mosby (D). It now heads to the Senate for debate.

Aside from expanding marijuana decriminalization in Maryland to include amounts up to one ounce, the new bill contains a provision which states that simple possession of such an amount is not sufficient proof of intent to distribute in and of itself.

The bill also outlines a system of staggered fine penalties in cases of multiple violations. First time offenders would be liable for a $100 fine, while a second offense incurs a $250 fine. This increases to a maximum of $500 for third time offenses and subsequent infractions. Courts would also reserve the right to order an individual convicted of a marijuana possession offense for the third time to enroll in a drug education program, or a substance abuse program “if necessary”.

“The House’s passage of HB 550 signifies the political will to move reform forward and end the failed policy of prohibition,” said Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator for NORML. “I commend House lawmakers who casted their vote in favor of this sensible reform measure, which will spare many Marylanders from the lifelong consequences of a marijuana arrest, and I encourage members of the state Senate to follow suit.”

The bill’s passage through the Maryland House was also welcomed by Neill Franklin, a former major with the Maryland State Police who is now executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

“This bill reduces the number of people who are needlessly in the criminal justice system,” Fraklin said. “Any bill that does that is a good thing.”

Olivia Naugle, a legal analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, hailed the bill as “an important reform that will further reduce the number of arrests and criminal charges for cannabis possession in Maryland.”

She went on to note that under Maryland’s marijuana laws, the state “has one of the lowest possession thresholds of any state that has decriminalized or legalized cannabis.”

In the 2019 legislative session, Maryland lawmakers debated two marijuana legalization bills, but neither made it the floor for a full vote.

Virginia lawmakers passed a marijuana decriminalization bill of their own last month, which Gov. Ralph Northam is widely expected to sign into law.

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