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Zirkin’s bill to decriminalize more pot stirs debate

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin on Tuesday defended his call for decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana as a way to conserve police resources.

But law enforcement was having no part of that argument during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Zirkin’s Senate-passed legislation.

Zirkin, chief sponsor of the landmark 2014 law that converted possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana from a crime to a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine, said a person possessing an ounce of marijuana — about three handfuls — is “a small-time user” and should not be prosecuted criminally.

“This is not where we should be spending our police resources,” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, told the House committee, citing the greater need to combat violent crime.

But representatives from the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association told the committee they oppose the nearly three-fold increase from less than 10 grams to less than an ounce.

An ounce of marijuana, about 28.35 grams, is generally not just for personal use, the associations stated. Marijuana, contrary to widespread belief, is not a benign drug and marijuana transactions often turn violent, they added.

The House committee is considering Senate Bill 127, which the Senate passed last month on a 36-11 vote.

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