Maryland marijuana debate moves to state House

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Local,Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's marijuana prohibition hurts more people than it helps, a veteran narcotics investigator told lawmakers Thursday. But he said police want to keep it illegal because drug enforcement is part of their professional culture.

"It has become our identity," Neill Franklin said. "Losing that identity is a hard pill to swallow. I had to do it."

Franklin worked with the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department for a total of 33 years. He now leads the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

He testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of Del. Curt Anderson's marijuana legalization bill.

Franklin said drug enforcement units "unfortunately" depend on cash and assets they seize in drug raids.

"It is a cash cow for drug task forces in this state and many other states," he said.

But if Maryland were to create a legal marijuana market, it could cut out a huge source of revenue for drug cartels, which spend some of that money on weapons, Franklin said. Meanwhile, it would create a new source of tax revenue, Anderson said. Colorado, which recently legalized the drug, collected more than $3.5 million in marijuana taxes and fees in January alone.

After Franklin's testimony, Anderson sparred with committee members who raised objections.

Michael McDermott, R-Worcester, said marijuana dispensaries might become concentrated in predominantly black communities. He said this is already the case with liquor stores.

Anderson said the bill limits the number of dispensaries in political districts. And drug dealers already cluster in those areas, said Rev. Todd Yeary, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, said it could hamper employers from drug testing their workers. Anderson told him businesses would be free to continue using drug tests, but Kelly said employees fired for smoking pot might file lawsuits. It would soon get complicated for businesses, despite any protections the law might afford them, he said.

Del. Heather Mizeur, who is running for governor, was scheduled to testify later Thursday on the House version of the decriminalization bill. Mizeur has announced support for legalizing marijuana and using tax money from selling it to fund pre-kindergarten education.

The Senate, which is several weeks ahead of the House on marijuana legislation, has favored a bill that would make possession a civil offense instead of eliminating penalties altogether. The Senate body is now preparing to vote on the decriminalization bill.

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