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Maryland Law Enforcement Argues Against Marijuana Decriminalization, Legalization

'How many people are going to get injured or killed ... because we can’t effectively deal with the increased presence of marijuana on our roadways?' —Lt. Tom Woodward of Maryland State Police

Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis speaks out against attempts to loosen Maryland's marijuana laws before a House committee hearing on Thursday. (Credit: Megan Brockett, Capital News Service)
Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis speaks out against attempts to loosen Maryland's marijuana laws before a House committee hearing on Thursday. (Credit: Megan Brockett, Capital News Service)

By Megan Brockett, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Dozens of uniformed law enforcement officials from around Maryland showed up at the state capital on Thursday to push back against advancing efforts by some legislators to loosen the state’s marijuana laws.

"We as legislators, we as law enforcement officers, we have a duty and a responsibility to protect our children," Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis said at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

Lewis and other opponents also voiced concerns about the dangers surrounding marijuana earlier in the day during a press conference, which at one point erupted into an angry debate between one speaker, substance abuse consultant Mike Gimbel, and a handful of marijuana reform supporters who were gathered outside the committee room where the hearing was held.

The debate inside the packed committee room became equally tense at times as lawmakers weighed measures that would either decriminalize small amounts of marijuana or legalize it outright for people 21 and older.

A bill sponsored by a gubernatorial candidate, Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, would reduce the use or possession of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one punishable by a fine of up to $100.

A similar decriminalization bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is set to receive a vote in the Senate on Friday.

Mizeur, who has expressed support for full legalization, spoke earlier in the day at a rally where nearly 100 people gathered outside the State House in support of easing the state’s marijuana laws.

But law enforcement officials attempted to fight back against what recent polls indicate is growing public support for legalization and decriminalization measures, urging lawmakers to use caution.

Many voiced fervid opposition to the legalization measure being pushed by Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, which would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol.

The proposal, which is awaiting a vote in committee on the Senate side, would make it legal for Marylanders to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana and own as many as six marijuana plants.

Anderson and supporters said that government regulation of marijuana would take power away from drug dealers and weaken organized crime. It would also do a better job of restricting underage residents’ access to the drug and ensuring that people aren’t exposed to a product that may be laced with more dangerous substances.

But some law enforcement officials refuted those notions and warned of unintended consequences that may prove harmful.

"You can rest assured, if [marijuana is] legalized in the state of Maryland, there will be ... a black market for those Mexican cartel members, who now dominate the industry here in the United States,” Lewis said. “We will never stop the Mexican cartel. We would do nothing but open up the floodgates if it’s legalized in the state of Maryland.”

Lt. Tom Woodward of the Maryland State Police urged lawmakers to consider that marijuana legalization could lead to a potential increase in impaired driving.

"How many people are going to get injured or killed ... because we can’t effectively deal with the increased presence of marijuana on our roadways?” Woodward said.

Opponents also argued that a change in the law might hinder the ability of officers to conduct important searches on the basis of marijuana odor.

Mike March 15, 2014 at 11:18 AM
Furthermore, it doesn't matter anyway. Karl's stats don't change the reality that drug prohibition doesn't seriously alter drug use. It just drives up the price, bankrupts the taxpayer, drives up violent crime and corruption of public officials and law enforcement. All while lining the pockets of those in the drug war industrial complex, the gangsters, and the crooked pols and police who are in bed with them. And exposing the honest police and citizens to a great deal of needless violence.
PH March 15, 2014 at 12:23 PM
You're spot on Mike. Pot use can show up in the body for weeks after it's used. Some places even pull hair out by the root to test for pot. It's done in TN and who knows where else. Crazier and crazier. Bottom line is as always. Follow the money.
Karl March 15, 2014 at 09:31 PM
You are right. However California has been testing as well as they can and wisely the state is not claiming to know all of the answers. Neither do we. THC detection does not indicate that a person was impaired. These statistics are quantitative information. I'm not sure there is a method to make qualitative tests. Never the less, California is testing as best as they know how. Although Maryland is testing, the results are not being published. That's why police officers don't know what they are talking about when they claim THC will cause more impaired driving. Urine testing can only indicate the presence of THC, not how long THC has been present, nor it's strength. Several studies show that exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke (which could result from being in the same room with a person who is using marijuana) may cause a non-user to show THC concentrations in blood serum of several nanograms per milliliter. Because of the invasiveness of blood tests and the inadequacy of urine tests in determining impairment on the roadside (i.e., actual THC levels), police officials hope to institute roadside saliva testing in the future. However, the technology for reliably testing saliva is still unavailable, and there are no national standards for testing saliva, as there are with blood and urine.
Mike March 16, 2014 at 12:45 AM
Karl wrote: "However California has been testing as well as they can and wisely the state is not claiming to know all of the answers. Neither do we. THC detection does not indicate that a person was impaired. These statistics are quantitative information. I'm not sure there is a method to make qualitative tests. Never the less, California is testing as best as they know how. " There's an old joke about a guy who comes upon a kid under a streetlamp one night. The kid's crawling around on his hands and knees. The guy asks 'whatcha looking for, sonny?' The kid says 'my quarter that I lost.' The man replies 'are you sure you lost it here?' The kid says 'no, I lost it two blocks over, but the light is better here.' The answer is to search based on probable cause for IMPAIRMENT. And to TEST for ACTUAL IMPAIRMENT. No one should care about the THC level in someone's blood, they should care whether the person is ACTUALLY IMPAIRED. He11, testing for marijuana as described in the CA case? It's like testing for height, only it's harder and more expensive. But it tells you the same thing about someone's impairment that the height test tells you: NOTHING.
Mike March 16, 2014 at 12:52 AM
IF you're actually concerned about whether someone is IMPAIRED, why measure some stat that you HOPE is CORRELATED to impairment? Measure the freakin' impairment directly. Are you concerned about reaction time? Measure that DIRECTLY. Are you concerned about loss of focus? Measure that DIRECTLY. It would be EASY to test such things, especially in the computer age, without any concern about levels of chemicals in the blood. No one should care about chemicals in the blood, they should care about whether one is driving competently, or whether one is not. Of course, the law doesn't like that because the probable cause takes actual careful observation. It's harder to justify an (already unjustifiable) sobriety checkpoint, which lacks any probable cause, when everyone knows the probable cause requirement is observing ACTUAL IMPAIRMENT. Bad police like the ease of searching everyone with no PC whatsoever. It's easy. Someone robbed a bank. Okay, search every house in the city, regardless of whether there is any reason to suspect anyone in particular.

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