Source: Thursday, March 13, 2014 by Robert Lang

The State Senate is poised to take a final vote Friday on a bill to decriminalize possessing small amounts ot marijuana.

The bill reduces the penalty for small amounts of marijuana from 90-days in jail to a 100-dollar civil fine.

The final vote was expected today, but is delayed until tomorrow so the bill can be printed for all 47 senators.

The Senate and House are working towards a Monday deadline towards passing bills in at least once chamber, the legislature’s printing office is responsible for printing hundreds of bills, and legislative sources say there is often a delay in getting bills printed before votes.

Lawmakers must have a printed copy of a bill before they vote on it.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved an amendment to use the money from fines to pay for drug treatment programs.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved an amendment that requires anyone arrested for the third time appear in court where a judge could order drug treatment, and another amendment to use money from the fines to pay for drug treatment programs.

Both amendments were sponsored by Washington County Republican Chris Shank.

Baltimore County Democrat Bobby Zirkin, who sponsored the bill, says the amendments make the bill better, because it addresses marijuana abuse as a “medical issue not a criminal issue.”

The Senate bill is seen as an alternative to a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use. That bill has not been voted out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, because the chairman says there isn’t enough support for it.

Meanwhile, a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use will get a hearing on Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee.

Baltimore City Delegate Curt Anderson says he is moving ahead with the bill in spite of objections in the Senate.

“I’ve got hundreds of young people and old people coming talking about why marijuana should be taxed and regulated, and sold legally in Maryland. It may have some impact on what the senators do,” Anderson told WBAL News.

Anderson believes marijuana should be legalized since most of those arrested are African American, and those offenders get criminal records, and they are denied jobs and housing opportunities. Anderson said in many cases those convicted are desperate and commit more crimes.

“We’re going to tell those stories over and over again. It may not sink in this year, it will sink in next year, that this is not that dangerous a drug,” Anderson added.

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says it will stage a rally in Annapolis, before the hearing on Thursday to call for lawmakers to pass Anderson’s bill.

Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Democratic candidate for governor, is expected to speak at the rally.

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