O'Malley Signs Pot Decriminalization Bill - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

O'Malley Signs Pot Decriminalization Bill

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Governor Martin O'Malley Governor Martin O'Malley
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WBOC/AP) - Gov. Martin O'Malley has signed a bill that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana, starting Oct. 1.

He says the bill could improve public safety by freeing police officers to focus on more serious threats.

In Salisbury, WBOC found people on all side of the decriminalization issue.  Joni Kindell from Salisbury is a pastor and said that she just cannot get behind the new decriminalization law in Maryland.

"People now are still going in and they're still committing  crime just to have this and you are going to have people who are not consciously aware of what is going on and I really believe it is a way that we're taking something like recreation and looking at things the wrong way.

Fran Newhouse works in Salisbury and said that while she may not be in favor of the new law, she will have to learn to live with it.

"I am not for it, but I think that it's inevitable that it's going to happen.  That it is going to go nationwide and eventually it is going to be legalized whether or not we all approve of it," said Newhouse.

One group in favor of the measure is the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland.  Group leaders said they have been working with lawmakers to get this legislation finalized but believe their job isn't done yet.  In a statement to WBOC the group proclaims, "Until marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, sales will remain uncontrolled and revenues will benefit criminal enterprises instead of legitimate, taxpaying businesses."

The new law will go into effect on October 1st.  A first offense can lead to a citation and a fine of up to $100.  A second offense could draw a $250 fine and a $500 for all subsequent offenses.

The Maryland State's Attorneys Association sent O'Malley a letter Friday, urging him to veto the measure. The group's president says the bill was passed too hastily. He wanted bill amendments that would keep it a crime to smoke pot in public or to carry it onto school property.

Nevertheless, O'Malley signed the bill Monday morning. He also approved measures to improve the distribution of medical marijuana, lower the burden of proof to obtain domestic violence protective orders and raise penalties for distracted driving when it leads to serious wrecks.

Some say the new law involves some ambiguities that police and prosecutors are just beginning to confront.
Under the law, possession of rolling papers, pipes and other marijuana accessories will remain a criminal offense. This means a person caught smoking a joint technically could be arrested for the rolling paper but not the marijuana inside.
Also, fines are supposed to go up for anyone caught with the drug more than once, but Scott Shellenberger, the state's attorney of Baltimore County, says it will be hard for police to establish whether a person has been charged before. Since marijuana possession will no longer be a crime, it will not show up in the criminal database.
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