ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's legislature apparently won't eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession this year, but a House committee isn't ruling it out for the future.
The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill Wednesday creating a task force to study decriminalization that would make a recommendation by June 30, 2016.
The bill is a reworked version of a Senate measure that would decriminalize marijuana later this year. In the same situation last year, the committee let the bill die without reaching the House floor.
Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat and an outspoken advocate of legalizing marijuana, said increasing public discussion of the prospect can only help his cause.
"I wouldn't say that I count it as a victory, but I count it as a big step forward," he said of Wednesday's vote.
The committee passed the bill by a vote of 15-5.
Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, said he was concerned about reports of young children getting high in states that have loosened marijuana restrictions. He doesn't want to see those problems repeated here.
The task force will include representatives of the legislature, the public defender's office, the governor's office of crime prevention, the American Civil Liberties Union and numerous other groups.
Besides decriminalization measures, the task force would study whether Maryland should create diversion and treatment programs for people whose marijuana use has reached "problematic levels."
Under the Senate's bill, anyone caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana could be fined $100 maximum. Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, the chief sponsor, said this could make the state safer by freeing up police officers' time.
Zirkin said every other state that has passed similar measures has set the threshold higher than 10 grams. He said their marijuana use levels have tended to stay the same or even decrease.