ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 12, 2020) Yesterday, the Maryland House passed a bill that would expand the state’s decriminalization of marijuana despite federal prohibition.
Del. Nick Mosby (D-Baltimore) introduced House Bill 550 (HB550) along with 13 fellow Democrats. Under current law, possession of marijuana up to 10 grams is classified as a civil infraction, not a criminal offense. HB550 would increase that amount to 1 ounce. The proposed law also stipulates that a person cannot be charged with “possession with intent to distribute marijuana” based solely on the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.
On March 11, the House passed HB550 by a 94-43 vote.
Currently, possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
“The House’s passage of HB 550 signifies the political will to move reform forward and end the failed policy of prohibition,” Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “I commend House lawmakers who cast 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.”
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., the federal government still claims it is illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Maryland’s decriminalization of cannabis and its medical marijuana program removes a layer of laws prohibiting and punishing the possession and use of marijuana. The passage of HB550 would expand that, but federal prohibition remains in place.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Oklahoma sweeps part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Maryland joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
The push to expand marijuana decriminalization in Maryland underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state removes restrictions on marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB550 will now move to the Maryland Senate for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not been referred to a Senate committee. Once it receives a committee assignment, it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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