Washington Bureau

01.03.14

Legal Pot in Maryland?

A key legislator in Maryland came out in support of legalizing marijuana on Friday.

Amsterdam, Vancouver, and Silver Spring?

Maryland could become the latest destination for legal marijuana, joining the states of Washington and Colorado, if an effort to allow the regulated sale of the drug in the Old Line State becomes law.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, Mike Miller, the powerful president of the Maryland Senate, said, “I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions.” Miller, a relatively conservative Democrat who has opposed both same-sex marriage and abolishing the death penalty, said he believes his position is the way of the future. “I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now,” he said.

However, in the interview, Miller appeared pessimistic about the chances for the legislature to legalize marijuana during its 2014 session, noting that it faced long odds in the House of Delegates and a skeptical governor in Martin O’Malley. Another legislator echoed Miller’s take, stating that either or perhaps both O’Malley and Speaker Michael Busch would have to push for a legalization bill for the effort to have a chance at success in the House of Delegates. It’s not likely that O’Malley, a possible 2016 presidential contender who first rose to fame as the law-and-order mayor of Baltimore, would support such an effort.

Instead, the new effort may be to shift the debate around marijuana to focus on decriminalization. Last year, the Maryland Senate voted to remove criminal penalties for those caught possessing up to 10 grams of marijuana and instead subject offenders to a $100 civil fine.

If Maryland does legalize marijuana, the effect on the national drug debate would be significant. Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Arlington, Virginia, would be able to look across the Potomac River and see a state with legal pot. Also, unlike Washington or Colorado, which are relatively geographically isolated, Maryland is in the middle of the Northeast Corridor. New York City is about two hours from the Maryland state line, and Washington, D.C., is a few metro stops away.

While the General Assembly may not legalize pot in the 2014 session, the new push makes legalization far more likely in the future. With Miller joining at least one major gubernatorial candidate in supporting the move, the question seems not to be if but when Maryland will legalize marijuana.