ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate gave overwhelming final approval to a bill that legalizes drug paraphernalia and doubles the amount of marijuana subject to civil possession penalties.
The 44-3 vote sends an amended version of House Bill 105 back to the House, where final passage in the final days of the session is uncertain.
“This is a compromise and as with any compromise there are pushes and pulls,” said Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The compromise has the support of the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association, police and marijuana advocates.
The bill legalizes what is current considered drug paraphernalia — rolling papers and other devices typically used to smoke marijuana. The Senate also approved compromise amendments that expanded current decriminalization law while criminalizing other activities related to marijuana.
One provision added to the House Bill increases the amount of marijuana that would be subject to civil fines from 10 grams to 20 grams.
In what is likely a preview of opposition when the bill returns to the House of Delegates, Sen. Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery County, attempted to amend out provisions making it a misdemeanor to smoke marijuana in public and instead make it subject to a civil citation. Feldman said criminal penalties would open the door to searches and seizures by the police.
“It seems to me from a public policy standpoint, we’re taking a step backward,” Feldman said.
But Zirkin countered that making smoking marijuana in public subject to a civil citation would make the penalty less than what can be imposed in most jurisdictions for drinking a beer in public.
“Just because these are things that are decriminalized doesn’t mean we want to see (them in public)” Zirkin said. “Certainly we don’t want to see people smoking (marijuana) at parks where children are around.”
The Senate, by two votes, narrowly rejected Feldman’s amendment, 22-24.
A second provision makes it a misdemeanor to smoke marijuana or edibles laced with the drug while in public or behind the wheel of a vehicle.
An amendment offered by Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan, D-Montgomery County, would have removed edibles from the bill.
“If we are sitting in our vehicle, eating grandma’s brownies, a police officer could tap on our window, ask what kind of brownie we are eating and either confiscate the brownie for testing or detain us.
“There is no field test for brownies or other edibles,” Kagan said “This is going to cause unreasonable detention of innocent people eating a brownie.”
Kagan said it “opens the door to racial profiling and unreasonable questioning of people.”
Zirkin argued against the amendment saying: “I don’t think having a brownie laced with marijuana while behind the wheel of a car is a good idea.”
The Senate defeated Kagan’s amendment by a vote of 3-44.
The bill now returns to the House of Delegates, where the House Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 to approve a much narrower version of the same bill.
Del. Curt S. Anderson, sponsor of the bill, said he believes he can convince the committee to concur with the Senate changes but acknowledged that the bill will be opposed by people who do not favor legalizing paraphernalia as well as by legislators opposed to new criminal sanctions for smoking marijuana in cars.
The bill must be approved by both the House and Senate before midnight Monday.