Bills would legalize marijuana, restrict tobacco
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 14:04

6th District legislators opposed to legalization

by Bill Gates

One bill introduced in the state legislature this month will raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
    Another bill will legalize marijuana.
    Well, at least the marijuana bill will start with a legal minimum age of 21.
    The Marijuana Control Act of 2014 would, if passed, make the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.
    It will also establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol; and allow for the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp.
    Supporters of legalizing marijuana point to a September poll by Public Policy Polling that found 53 percent of Maryland voters support regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol, with 38 percent opposed.

“Our experiment with marijuana prohibition has failed,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a press statement.
    “We got ourselves out of alcohol prohibition by regulating and taxing the product, and we should employ the same exit strategy with marijuana,” Raskin said.
    Supporters also cite the high cost of enforcing marijuana laws, in terms of the burden on the court systems, prisons, and to people dealing with convictions on their record.
    One report estimated Maryland spends $236.7 million a year enforcing marijuana laws.
    Colorado and Washington state recently legalized marijuana.
    One estimate states Colorado could bring in $208 million in taxes on the sale of marijuana this year.
    Several other states, as well as Washington, D.C., are considering the legalization of marijuana.
    The Maryland bill would tax marijuana at a rate of $50 per ounce, and the first $5 million in revenue generated would go toward drug and alcohol treatment programs and education.
    Marijuana would not be allowed to be grown or sold within 1,000 feet of schools, and would come with a notice containing information about the dangers and problems of getting high.
    The bill also calls for a minimum of two recreational marijuana dispensaries in every county, but limited to one for every 20,000 residents.
    Local jurisdictions would be allowed to set limits on the number of marijuana dispensaries in their areas, but would not be allowed to ban them.
    It is unlikely, however, the bill will pass this session.
    Supporters include Senate president Mike Miller, but its opponents include Gov. Martin O’Malley.
    The editorial board of the Washington Post said the state should take its time before legalizing marijuana.
    Opponents feel more research is needed to study the impact of legalizing marijuana.
    Questions raised include: will legalization lead to increased use? Increased rates of addiction and treatment? More marijuana in schools? People going from store to store buying the per-purchase limit of one ounce and then selling it on the black market?
    There is also concern marijuana legalization will cause people to drink more alcohol, and lead to a rise in drunken and stoned driving.
    “Given the stakes — the already-staggering carnage on the nation’s roadways caused by drunk (and stoned) drivers, and the risk of more of the same — that’s a powerful argument in favor of gathering more information before rushing headlong toward legalization,” the Post wrote in its editorial on Jan. 12.
    Local legislators of the 6th District — Sen. Norman R. Stone and delegates Joseph “Sonny” Minnick, John Olszewski Jr. and Michael Weir Jr. — are opposed to legalizing marijuana at this time.
    “I do know we spend far too many tax dollars through our police, court and jail systems going after non-violent, recreational users of marijuana,” Olszewski said. “However, I have not been convinced legalization would fully address this problem or that it would not create problems of its own.
    “The second point is what I especially worry about. With legalization efforts already approved in Colorado and Washington states, the prudent thing for lawmakers here to do would be to observe what the experience is in those states before opting to push forward with legalization efforts of our own.”
    Weir noted that the federal government still considers marijuana use illegal.
    “Using marijuana shuts the door on anyone’s future,” Weir said. “It keeps them from holding a state or federal job or entering military service. And it just leads to using [harder] drugs.”
Raising the smoking age
    The bill would increase the age at which people can legally purchase tobacco products from the current 18 to 21, phased in over three one-year intervals (i.e., the age would raise by one year each year until 21 is reached).
    It is intended to cut down on the number of people who take up the smoking habit.
    Supporters of the bill point to a Surgeon General’s report which found that nearly 90 percent of adults who smoke daily started smoking before age 21.
    No other state has a smoking age of 21, although New York City passed a bill last year raising the age to 21 (it goes into effect in April).
    “I can see how this might discourage young people from smoking, but I think the real problem has been lack of enforcement of existing laws,” said Olszewski, who doubts the bill will pass.
    “According to the American Cancer Society, about nine of 10 adult smokers started by the time they were 19; given this fact, a pretty strong argument can be made we are failing on the enforcement front,” Olszewski said.
    Supporters of the bill, however, feel there has been a high rate of compliance with the current law among stores that sell tobacco products, and say it will help save some of the 7,000 Marylanders who die from tobacco-related diseases every year.
    Weir, however, feels 18 is old enough for people to make their own decisions.
    “You can join the service at age 18, vote, but you can’t buy cigarettes?” he said. “Someone coming out of school, possibly starting a career, is cut off from [buying cigarettes] until they’re 21? To me, at this time, that’s wrong.”