Martin O'Malley Is 'Not Much In Favor' Of Loosening Weed Laws, But His Constituents Are

Martin O'Malley Totally Harshes Maryland's Mellow
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley hands a pen to a supporter after signing the Civil Marriage Protection Act in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, March 1, 2012. Maryland is the eighth state to legalize gay marriage. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley hands a pen to a supporter after signing the Civil Marriage Protection Act in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, March 1, 2012. Maryland is the eighth state to legalize gay marriage. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Call him Martin O'Malley, buzzkill in chief.

Most Marylanders support making marijuana legal for adults, according to a poll commissioned last fall by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Marijuana Police Project. But the state's governor -- and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate -- Martin O'Malley isn't, evidently, like most Marylanders.

The Baltimore Sun reports that on Wednesday, the first day of Maryland's 90 day legislative session, while appearing on a radio program, O'Malley said he's "not much in favor'' of decriminalization.

"We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city," O'Malley said. "This drug, its use and its abuse can be a gateway." O'Malley added that he is amenable to expanding the state's still-new -- and, some say, quite flawed -- medical marijuana program.

Some sobering statistics: The ACLU put out a report last year finding that Maryland is fourth in the country for pot arrests, that number of people arrested for marijuana possession increased by 34 percent between 2001 and 2010, and that in the last decade "police in Maryland have arrested more people for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined."

The data also show that, despite comparable rates of marijuana use across race, in Maryland communities of color are policed differently for marijuana possession. In every county in the Free State, Blacks are disproportionately targeted for enforcement of marijuana laws. The glaring racial disparities are as staggering in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington D.C. as they are on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland. They are as likely to exist in large counties as small, in counties with high median family incomes or low median incomes. They exist regardless of whether Blacks make up a large majority or small minority of a county’s population. And the disparities have only gotten worse over time.

"Gov. O'Malley should stand with the majority of Marylanders and stop wasting police resources arresting adults who use a substance that is safer than alcohol," Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Morgan Fox told HuffPost. "It's time to take marijuana out of the hands of criminals and create legitimate jobs for thousands of Marylanders, while generating more than $100 million per year for health, schools and other needs."

Legalized weed has some powerful supporters in the state. Among them is the Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) -- whose previous record includes taking opposite positions to O'Malley on marriage equality (O'Malley advocated for gay marriage; Miller voted against) and the death penalty (O'Malley favored abolishing capitol punishment, Miller did not), and who told the Washington Post last week that “I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions.”

Maryland's Senate passed a decriminalization bill last year. The law, which would have subjected those caught with weed to a small fine instead of jail time, failed in the House.

Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore) said he plans to reintroduce the bill this term. And, as the Post notes, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is running for governor, proposes legalizing marijuana, and funding pre-k education with the ensuing tax revenue. (There's reason to hope that figure could be very very high, as it were; Colorado's legal marijuana dispensaries sold some $5 million worth of product in their first week; there's reason to be optimistic that sales in Maryland would also be fruitful.)

Miller once said he "wouldn't mind a toke"; more recently, he said to the Post he thinks the tide is turning in the direction of being able to fulfill that desire.

“I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now,” he said.

But if a generation from now marijuana will be legal, Miller was bearish on the prospects of a bill passing during this legislative session -- in part, he said, because O'Malley is “always slow on issues like this.”

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