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Maryland Senate Votes to Decriminalize Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana

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    No jail time if you're caught with small amounts of marijuana in Maryland. The plan approved today in the state Senate would lessen the penalty to a fine. News4's Chris Gordon reports from Annapolis with some of arguments for and against the pot law changes.

    The Maryland Senate voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana Tuesday.

    Under the new bill, anyone caught with up to 10 grams (0.35 ounce) would receive a citation and a $100 fine instead of being arrested and charged with a crime, reported News4's Chris Gordon.

    "This bill is about taking what is a criminal, incarcerable offense and making it a civil fine so we're not incarcerating people for having a small amount of marijuana," Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said. "It's a tremendous waste of resources: public defender, prosecutors, judicial and police."

    The State Senate passed the measure 30-16, with the yes vote extending to some Republicans. Among them: Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R - District 34), whose husband has cancer. Decriminalizing it in small amounts makes marijuana available to patients and providers.

    Jacobs noted that if she needed or wanted to buy a small amount of marijuana for her husband, she would want to be able to do that, Gordon reported.

    Opponent Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Eastern Shore) noted studies saying marijuana use can lead to opiate addiction later in life, Gordon reported.

    "If you want to go ahead and legalize marijuana, go ahead and put it on the  ballot and let the people of Maryland decide," Pipkin said.

    The bill passed Tuesday is not a medical marijuana bill. Three different bills are currently wending their way through Maryland's state legislature. This is the first to be passed. Another involves the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes; the last is the complete decriminalization of marijuana, which probably won't pass this year -- but may ultimately have a chance. The sponsor of that bill called it a "conversation starter."

    The bill approved Tuesday will now go to the House, where it may face some opposition, but is likely to pass, Gordon said.