State Sen. Jamie Raskin on Tuesday said Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to veto a bill that would have decriminalized the possession of marijuana paraphernalia “just doesn’t make any sense.”
The bill passed the General Assembly earlier this year, but Hogan vetoed it Friday. In a letter to describe his reasoning, the Republican governor wrote the bill presented a threat to public safety because it would leave state and local police officers “with no authority to make a traffic stop if they see someone smoking marijuana while driving.”
The bill was aimed at bringing the law surrounding marijuana paraphernalia—such as pipes and rolling papers—in line with the marijuana decriminalization bill that was enacted last year. That bill made possession of small amounts marijuana a civil offense punishable by a first-time fine of $100. Fines for second and third offenses are $250 and $500.
The legislation this year would have eliminated the criminal penalties for a person caught with marijuana-related paraphernalia as well as for smoking marijuana in a public place. Under current Maryland law, a person caught with marijuana paraphernalia faces a misdemeanor charge and a fine up to $500 the first time and up to two years imprisonment the second time.
“It’s like we repealed [alcohol] prohibition but left in place a law against wine glasses,” Raskin, a Democrat who represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park, said. “We already have an independent criminal prohibition against driving while intoxicated with marijuana or some other drug. I don’t quite get the logic of the governor’s veto.”
Raskin, a constitutional law professor at American University who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives seat being vacated by Chris Van Hollen, added that if a police officer actually saw someone driving while smoking marijuana it would immediately give rise to reasonable suspicion, which would enable the officer to make a traffic stop.
Hogan wrote in his letter that the veto was requested by the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association, the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association.
Raskin said the state legislature may attempt to override Hogan’s veto during the next session of the General Assembly in 2016, or tweak the bill slightly to make it more amenable to the governor next year.
“One way or another we will resolve this issue,” Raskin said.
Raskin, who has been a state senator since 2007, has long advocated for reforming marijuana laws. He helped usher the state’s medical marijuana law through the legislature and during the past two years has sponsored bills that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in the state, in a similar fashion to Washington state and Colorado. The legalization bills did not pass.
Raskin said regulating and taxing marijuana would create a new taxpaying industry, allow law enforcement to use resources on more serious crimes and put drug dealers and organized crime gangs out of the pot business. He said it would also be a more effective way of keeping marijuana away from children.
“High school and college kids today have ridiculously easy access to marijuana,” Raskin said. “It’s tougher for them to get alcohol, because [alcohol] is regulated by the government.”