Montgomery County Council calls on state to decriminalize marijuana

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday morning calling on the Maryland General Assembly to further relax its marijuana laws.

In April, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed a bill lessening the penalty for possessing less than ten grams of marijuana from a criminal to civil offense. Under the new legislation, first-time offenders now receive a $100 fine. Second-time offenders net a fine of up to $250. Those caught three or more times can be fined up to $500. The newly-established law also requires third-time offenders, and those under the age of 21, to enroll in drug education classes.

The progressive law, however, did not include the term "paraphernalia" in its language. In turn, police across the Free State continue to arrest people for possessing items like pipes and bongs. Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) sponsored Tuesday's resolution, in part, hoping state lawmakers would amend the current law.

"This is something that just makes sense," Navarro said during an on-camera interview Tuesday.

State Senator Rich Madaleno, Jr. (D-Montgomery) and State Delegates Sheila Hixson (D-Montgomery), Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery) and Al Carr (D-Montgomery) have expressed their support in restructuring the law during the next legislative session.

"We need some fixes to the law that passed this year," Sen. Madaleno said. "You can be arrested for having a pipe to smoke marijuana, but you can't be arrested for actually having the marijuana."

In addition to suggesting amendments to the law's language, Tuesday's resolution also asked that police make marijuana enforcement its lowest priority.

While the recommendation is a welcome reminder, the Rockville Police Department says it hasn't prioritized pot enforcement for years.

"Personal crime, property destruction and so forth have always been very high priorities in law enforcement. Drug paraphernalia, especially marijuana, has never been a high priority," Maj. Marsh stated.

Either way, Navarro hopes her motion also levels the racial playing field. In 2010, African-Americans made up 18-percent of Montgomery County’s population. But at the same time, 46-percent of those arrested for marijuana possession were black.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), blacks and whites smoke pot equally, and decriminalizing the drug is, in part, about trying to keep people of color from "unnecessary" run-ins with the criminal justice system.

"Our nation’s failed war on drugs is disproportionately targeting people of color, contributing to income inequality and exacerbating the academic achievement gap," Navarro stated. "A criminal record can keep you from getting a job, housing or even a student loan. This is a social justice issue that our state and federal leaders need to address."

Still, public perception varies on whether the decision to decriminalize is a good idea.

"I don't believe they [marijuana users] are causing too much harm to anybody," Gabriel Dubuisson, who supports marijuana decriminalization stated.

"Smoke marijuana, they may not know right or wrong, so they can get into all types of trouble," Jeneh Dabo, who is against marijuana decriminalization stated.

ABC7 contacted the Montgomery County Police Department for comment about Tuesday's resolution, but did not hear back.