Maryland: Drug Reform Efforts Picking Up in the Terrapin State

The Terrapin State is this year seeing increasing efforts to reform drug policy. As discussed in another article this issue, the Maryland Compassionate Use Act (HB 1040) would expand on a state medical marijuana law passed in 2003. Late last month -- perhaps preluding some larger effort -- the respected Justice Policy Institute issued a report, Maryland's Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Laws: Their Impact on Incarceration, State Resources and Communities of Color.

Also last month, the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Delegates heard HB 283, a bill sponsored this year and last by Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Bethesda) that would require the state's education agency to provide state scholarships to students who qualify under the state's own standards but are ineligible for federal aid because of federal laws (like the Higher Education Act's drug provision). Currently such students may lose state as well as federal aid, but the decisions are delegated to individual school financial aid offices. HB 283 again did not make it through committee this year, though other avenues such as a Senate bill could be possible.

Things are looking better for a University of Maryland effort to reduce the penalties for students caught possessing marijuana in campus dorms. Currently, pot possession in the dorms is considered a Class A infraction of university rules, along with arson, assault, and similar violent crimes, and results in automatic expulsion from campus residence halls.

But after a year-long campaign by UMD SSDP and NORML chapters that saw a successful student voter initiative calling for the equalization of penalties for pot possession and underage possession of alcohol (a Class B infraction) and a subsequent Residence Hall Association Senate resolution calling on the Department of Residence Life to reclassify first-time pot possession to Class B, activists are now eagerly awaiting a decision by department director Deb Grandner on whether to accept the resolution's recommendation.

"I'm really optimistic about this," said UMD SSDP chapter head Anastasia Cosner. "I'll be meeting with Grander on Friday, and I'm going to tell her this has been approved by the students and by the residence halls, so she should probably just go ahead and approve it now."

Grandner is under some pressure to accede to the demand, said SSDP national executive director Kris Krane. "The student newspaper has done three stories on this in the past couple of weeks," he noted, "the Residence Halls Senate has called for the change, the president of the student government supports it, and now even a member of the House of Delegates has weighed in with a letter to Grandner."

"Failure to enact the recommendations of the RHA Senate by your office could have more serious implications than would result from a change in residential policy," warned Ana Sol Gutierrez, the same Delegate who sponsored HB 283. "Students who are forced to leave the residence halls during the semester often are not able to complete coursework, and may leave school altogether. Students who consequently abandon their goals for completing a college education are more likely to engage in less productive behaviors including abusing drugs in the future."

There is no firm deadline for Grandner to act, but activists say they are prepared to go to the next level if she demurs or delays. Hopefully they won't have to and a battle on the University of Maryland campus will be won sooner rather than later.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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