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Maryland House Committee Stalls On Marijuana Decriminalization

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A House committee in Maryland isn't moving on marijuana decriminalization, but supporters in the Senate say the fight isn't over.
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A House committee in Maryland isn't moving on marijuana decriminalization, but supporters in the Senate say the fight isn't over.

Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana were dealt a serious setback this week by a House committee, which voted to study the issue instead of advancing a bill that would punish possession of small amounts of the drug with a fine instead of jail time.

But the fight isn't over yet, even with the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn for the year on Monday.

In the Senate, where decriminalization passed with bipartisan support, there was a lot of agitation and exasperation after the House Judiciary Committee changed the bill yesterday, calling for a task force to study the matter for the next two years.

"You know, they just delay and delay and delay and delay. Justice delayed is justice denied," says Senate president Mike Miller. "And, they want to continue to put their head in the sand on this issue."

Baltimore County Democrat Bobby Zirkin is the sponsor of the bill, and says he'll bring it back again next year. "This has been studied for decades from the other states that have already done the exact same thing. So, I don't know what else you could possibly study from the other 18 states that started doing this in the 1970s."

But Zirkin won't have to bring the bill back if decriminalization supporters successfully change the measure back to its original form during Friday morning's floor session. Montgomery County Democrat Heather Mizeur is one of those who will try.

"We're not going to accept a task force," Mizeur says. "If we're going to study anything, we should look at legalization. And we aren't done with the fight on this yet."

As for whether they'll succeed tomorrow, Mizeur says, "We're doing our whip counts. And we're definitely coming up with close to 71 votes to support this on the House floor."

Another potential roadblock for decriminalization supporters: Governor Martin O'Malley hasn't indicated whether he would sign the bill if it reached him.

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