NAACP, ACLU Call on Chairman Vallario to Allow Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
March 31, 2014 12:00 am

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New ACLU polling in several House Judiciary Committee members’ districts shows majority support for marijuana policy reform

March 31, 2014

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. – On the eve of a Tuesday House Judiciary Committee hearing on a Senate-passed marijuana decriminalization measure, two key organizations focused on the civil rights of Marylanders called for action on Senate Bill 364, which was passed weeks ago by the state Senate on a bipartisan vote of 36-8. Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Prince George’s) killed a similar bill in his committee last year by not allowing a vote on the measure, and has been lobbying his committee members to reject the measure in 2014. SB 364 would replace criminal and civil penalties with a civil fine for possession of limited amounts of marijuana.

Over the past few days, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland conducted district-specific polling on the issue, which the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches (NAACP) is today highlighting in calling for a committee vote. The polling was done by Public Policy Polling.

"The ACLU has long known that the public supports redirecting police resources away from low-level marijuana offenses and towards serious crimes," said ACLU of Maryland Executive Director Susan Goering. "We also now have very specific polling that this proposal is supported by a majority of voters in House Judiciary Committee members’ legislative districts, including Chairman Vallario’s district."

The ACLU of Maryland polled 718 people in Districts 15, 27A, and 40 to ascertain the feelings of constituents of Chairman Vallario, Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery, and Del Frank Conaway, Jr. (D-Baltimore City). These voters 2-to-1 say Maryland should spend less time and money on marijuana prosecution, and that Maryland should have civil rather than criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Even self-described "Conservative" and "Very Conservative" voters express majority support for these marijuana policy reforms.

"The ACLU of Maryland calls on Chairman Vallario to bring SB 364 for a vote and allow his Committee members to vote their conscience," said Goering. "We have painstakingly documented the racial disparities rife in Maryland’s enforcement of marijuana possession. Those votes of conscience should be a resounding, collective yes!"

In addition, the NAACP is speaking out today in the following statement on SB 364 from President Gerald Stansbury:

The Maryland State Conference of the NAACP calls on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Vallario to hold a vote on SB 364 legislation that would place Maryland alongside 17 states and the District of Columbia who have removed inhumane criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. This important bill deserves to move forward to the full House for consideration. We know Maryland's current policy of criminalizing marijuana possession disproportionately impacts communities of color. Every day that we continue to operate under this policy produces more persons of color burdened by criminal records who are then barred from employment and educational opportunities.

Read the new ACLU polling and download the ACLU report, "The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White."

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