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Maryland Senate Gives Preliminary Approval To Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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The Maryland Senate has given preliminary approval to a bill decriminalizing the possession of 10 grams of marijuana.

The bill faces a final vote Thursday, but is expected to pass after two changes to it were approved today. The changes make anyone caught and fined three times for possession face a judge, at which point they may be forced into a drug treatment program. The other takes money raised by fines for possession and sets it aside for treatment programs. Once approved, the bill will head to the House of Delegates, where it failed to get out of committee last year.

Baltimore Democrat Curt Anderson believes the initiative will fare better this year, saying more of his colleagues are "warming" to the measure. "Who wants to step into a cold bathtub?" he says. "It might have been cold a couple years ago, but now with folks coming out and talking about it...more and more people are realizing they have the same thoughts and feelings on marijuana, and that it's not that big a deal."

Anderson is the House sponsor of a legalization bill, but the success of decriminalization likely means the end for hopes of legalization in this year's session.

Montgomery County Democrat Jamie Raskin sponsors the Senate version. "I think that the die has been cast," he says. "Marijuana prohibition is going the way of liquor prohibition. It's just a question of when. But many people want to wait another year or two to see what happens in Colorado and Washington."

Colorado and Washington are the first two states to legalize the drug, having done so through voter referenda in 2012.

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