Joseph Vallario
House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

ACLU, NAACP call on Vallario to allow marijuana vote

The ACLU of Maryland and NAACP are calling on the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to allow a vote on a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The groups Monday released a poll of three legislative districts including that of committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, Vice Chairwoman Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, and Del. Frank M. Conway Jr., D-Baltimore City.

“The ACLU has long known that the public supports redirecting police resources away from low-level marijuana offenses and towards serious crimes,” said ACLU of Maryland Executive Director Susan Goering, in a statement released Monday. “We also now have very specific polling that this proposal is supported by a majority of voters in House Judiciary Committee members’ legislative districts, including Chairman Vallario’s district.”

The poll release and challenge to Vallario come a day before the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County. The bill would make the possession of 10 grams of marijuana by an adult subject to a $100 civil fine for the first two offenses. A third offense would require the defendant to appear in court.

The Senate passed the bill by a 36-8 vote earlier this year. Vallario opposed the bill last year and continues to be the major hurdle to a full vote in the House of Delegates. The ACLU, in its statement, said Vallario ” has been lobbying his committee members to reject the measure in 2014.”

The ACLU said 60 percent of the people polled in districts represented by Vallario, Dumais and Conway said they would favor making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense . Just less than half of those surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who voted to make possession of small amounts of the drug subject to a civil citation.

The polling was paid for by the ACLU, which supports the legislation, and conducted by Public Policy Polling.

“We have painstakingly documented the racial disparities rife in Maryland’s enforcement of marijuana possession,” said Goering in the statement “Those votes of conscience should be a resounding, collective yes!”

Maryland would become the 18th state to adopt such a law if it is passed this year. Washington D.C. has also passed similar legislation.

NAACP President Gerald Stansbury, in the same statement, also called on Vallario to allow the vote and reduce what he called “inhumane, criminal penalties.”

“This important bill deserves to move forward to the full House for consideration,” Stansbury said in the statement. “We know Maryland’s current policy of criminalizing marijuana possession disproportionately impacts communities of color. Every day that we continue to operate under this policy produces more persons of color burdened by criminal records who are then barred from employment and educational opportunities.”

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery. File photo March 14, 2014. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

In an interview last week, Dumais expressed doubt for the bill’s prospects, saying she “is not so sure it’s the right  message to send to young people.”

“I’m just not ready to make that leap,” Dumais said. “My committee has never been real comfortable with it and to be honest I’m not that comfortable with it. Maybe there’s something we can do with it. We haven’t had a full discussion because it hasn’t come up for a vote yet.

“I don’t think it’s going to move this year but I could be wrong,” Dumais said.