Controversial marijuana debate continues in MD

A vote Saturday by the House of Delegates goes in favor of a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The measure is at the center of a heated debate. There are those who say this is a necessary step while others say it goes way too far.

"You tell someone who gets high that you can smoke 10 grams and not get in trouble, they're going to be smoking all day and night," Mike Gimbel, drug expert, said.

Gimbel calls the vote a slippery slope.

In his eyes, the fines the bill proposes are not enough.

"The message is, it's okay to smoke pot, just keep it under 10 grams," Gimbel said.

The House bill states that if you are caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana, there would be no criminal penalty. Instead, there would be a civil fine; $100 for the first offense.

Delegate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. was one of the key players in pushing it through. He says one mistake has gone on to plague too many young people's lives, particularly black youth.

"There is a tremendous racial disparity as it relates to marijuana arrests in the state of Maryland. African Americans are disproportionately arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana," Mitchell Jr. told ABC2.

Gimbel says there will be an impact, but not the one Mitchell Jr., the black caucus, and other advocates are looking for.

"When pot used increases, more people are going to have a problem. So more black youth are going to have a problem with marijuana and when it comes time to needing help, who has least resources? Black youth. So really what they did by saying we want to help black youth, they hurt them," Gimbel said.

Mitchell Jr. empasized the drug is still illegal, but Gimbel says not for long.

"The legislators that voted for this, they want marijuana legal in the state of Maryland. They want the revenue. They want the money and you know what? They don't care who it hurts," Gimbel said.

"I have not been sold on legalization yet, however, I think in terms of small amounts of possession of marijuana, that this is the right step," Mitchell Jr. said.

The bill now goes to the Senate on Monday, which is the last day of the legislative session.

If it gets the Senate's final approval, it would then move on to Governor O'Malley's desk.

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