Lawmakers enter last day of session

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers will be putting finishing touches on a marijuana decriminalization bill and an increase in the minimum wage Monday on the last day of the state’s legislative session.

The House of Delegates approved the marijuana decriminalization bill on Saturday. The state Senate approved a similar bill earlier, but there are some changes senators would have to approve to send the bill to Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The Senate had proposed a $100 penalty for every offense. The House measure raises the penalties to $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense. The two houses also differ on what would trigger evaluations for drug treatment. The measure as changed by the House would require offenders under 21 and those caught with the drug three times or more to be evaluated for treatment.

Maryland lawmakers also will be working on addressing differences on a bill to get the state’s stalled framework to implement medical marijuana working. The Senate has removed a cap on the number of grower licenses the state could distribute, leaving the matter up to a medical marijuana commission. The House limited the number of growers to 10.

The Senate also separates growers from treatment centers that would distribute the drug, out of concerns that the House version of the bill could create a monopoly.

Medical marijuana has stalled in the state, because a law enacted last year requires academic medical centers to make marijuana available to qualifying patients. However, none of the academic medical centers has stepped forward. This year, lawmakers want to allow certified doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with debilitating, chronic and severe illnesses.

The House also is scheduled to vote on whether to agree with Senate changes made to a bill to raise the minimum wage in increments over several years.

Under the bill as it has been changed by the Senate, the minimum wage would rise from $7.25 an hour to $8 in January. It would go up to $8.25 in July 2015; $8.75 in July 2016 and $9.25 in July 2017. The Senate delays when the minimum wage would reach $10.10 until July 2018. The House had approved the $10.10 rate to take effect in January 2017.

One of the biggest changes made by the Senate would require money to be set aside to make sure community services providers who work with the developmentally disabled will continue to be paid above the minimum wage.

The Senate also increased an exemption of paying the minimum wage at cafes, drugstores and restaurants that sell food and drink for consumption on the premises. The House had capped the exemption at $250,000, while the Senate increased it to $400,000.

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