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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Difficulty of legislating morality

   Today brings Maryland a new penalty for possession of a small amount of marijuana.  It will no longer bring a criminal charge but only a civil fine.  Kind of like a traffic ticket.  This is just another example of how changing times brings new ways of defining acceptable behaviors.  It seems that updating out of date laws has to be done piecemeal.  We saw this happen with the marriage equality reform.  Overruling "don't ask don't tell,"  the Supreme Court ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, states using civil marriage as a stepping stone and finally states voting and courts ruling that gays could marry.  We see this happening with the marijuana legalization issue.  First you approve the use of medical marijuana, then you decriminalize the use of small amounts and finally you legalize the use of certain quantities for private use as was recently done in Colorado.  Does anyone not think that this is the path that Maryland is now on?  For elected officials they will always want to stay one step behind where the public is on any issue.  What officials maybe realizing on both these issues is the elective power of younger citizens that has propelled the movement on both these issues.
      When we look at what substances cause major societal issues there seems to be some hypocrisy in our laws.  The use of tobacco, alcohol and legal medications have more dramatic consequences than marijuana as shown in the chart below. 

 The new law is explained in this piece from NORMAL  

"In the state of Maryland, marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, with a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical value. A person arrested for possession of marijuana can be convicted of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both.

As of October 1, 2014, the possession of a small amount of marijuana will no longer be a criminal offense.

Earlier this year, Maryland’s General Assembly voted to change the existing law, making possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana a civil offense, with a penalty similar to a traffic citation. According to the new law:

The fine for a first offense by adults 21 and older will be $100. No jail sentence will be involved.
The fine for a second offense will be $250.
A defendant facing a third offense will be required to appear in court, facing a possible $500 fine and the prospect of undergoing drug treatment.

In what may seem like an incongruous situation, marijuana paraphernalia is not decriminalized under the law set to go into effect Oct. 1. While arrest for the possession of such paraphernalia (pipe, rolling papers, etc.) doesn’t include jail time, it remains a misdemeanor offense with a potential $500 fine. (A person with multiple charges of paraphernalia possession faces a possible prison sentence of up to two years.)

Some Maryland officials hope to rectify this situation. Earlier this month, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a resolution asking the Maryland State General Assembly to “decriminalize the possession of devices used to smoke marijuana.”

    Do I personally think that decriminalizing marijuana is socially beneficial? As a non-user I think that the occasional use of marijuana is no different than being a social drinker. But the heavy use of any mood altering substance, whether that is alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs, has negative societal consequences that have to be addressed in a consistent way. The new law on possession of marijuana just brings some consistency to our laws.

   Next clue Columbia Cash

      Cash is by against a tree near this area where some deer have bedded down.


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