Baltimore Sun: Legal marijuana backers rally before hearings

Nearly 100 supporters of sweeping changes in Maryland's marijuana laws rallied in the bitter cold in Annapolis Thursday before planned legislative hearings on bills to legalize – or at least decriminalize – possession of the drug.

The gathering cheered as Del. Heather R. Mizeur, a Democratic candidate for governor, declared that the state's strategy of prohibiting marijuana use has been a failure. She said this could be the year that proponents of marijuana law changes finally make meaningful progress.

"People's minds change and we're seeing this in public opinion polls throughout this state," she said.

Mizeur was preparing to testify later Thursday in favor of her bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but both she and the crowd were firmly in favor of the eventual legalization and regulated sale of the drug.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear a series of marijuana bills Thursday afternoon, including one sponsored by Baltimore Democratic Del. Curt Anderson calling for full legalization. Not even its proponents expect legalization to pass this year.

"It's likely to take an election and a mandate from voters to change old ways of thinking in Annapolis," said Mizeur, who has made a call for legalization a centerpiece of her campaign. "This year medical marijuana seems like the easy thing to do. Decriminalization seems like the middle path."

Legislation that would permit doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients who could benefit from its medicinal qualities is making its way through the General Assembly this week – replacing a law passed last year that is largely regarded as a failure.

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to give its approval Friday to a decriminalization bill.

The House is regarded as a more steep obstacle for decriminalization – largely because of Speaker Michael E. Busch's skepticism about that approach.

For the people who gathered on Annapolis Mall Thursday, decriminalization would only be a step on the way to the type of legal distribution system approved by voters in Colorado and Washington.

Barry Considine, 60, came out to the rally in his wheelchair. The Halethorpe man said he's been coming to Annapolis every year since 2007 to support bills allowing medical use of marijuana. This year, he said, he's supporting full legalization.

Considine, who said he has been using marijuana for four decades to help treat his post-polio syndrome, said he wants to be able to obtain what he calls his "medicine" without his wife or children have to worry he'll be arrested.

"The main argument is that it's just as safe as alcohol, or safer actually," Considine said.

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