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With Legislators' OK, Maryland Poised To Decriminalize Pot

Maryland lawmakers voted on Monday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

"As recently as Friday, the proposal seemed to be dying in the House of Delegates, before the Legislative Black Caucus and other advocates convinced a key committee chairman to change course.

"Advocates for the proposal argued that not only was the law enforced in a discriminatory way, the state had already rolled back penalties for possession so much that the justice system and courthouses were needlessly bogged down by minor marijuana offenders likely to be given probation.

"The House of Delegates passed the proposal Saturday with just seven votes to spare, and opponents argued that decriminalizing possession sent the wrong message about drug use. "

The Senate followed suit on Monday with a 34-8 vote.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign the bill into law. After the vote, O'Malley released a statement saying over the years, he's changed his mind on marijuana use.

He said:

"As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the Public Will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety. I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health. Such an acknowledgment in law might even lead to a greater focus on far more serious threats to public safety and the lives of our citizens."

According to Governing, about 20 states have passed "laws legalizing marijuana in some form."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.