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Maryland is cautious when it comes to marijuana. This year, as in past years, some lawmakers are trying to inch the state’s policy toward legalization.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a bill that lowered the penalty for possession of a small amount of pot to a misdemeanor with a $500 fine, and in 2011 made the medical use if marijuana an affirmative defense of charged with possession.

“Drug policy in Maryland is, I think, moving in the right direction,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. “We aren’t quite where Colorado and Washington are, but I think we’re headed there.”

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills has a bill this year to decriminalize the use of marijuana, making it a civil offense with a $100 fine.

Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore goes a step further. He is sponsoring a bill that would legalize recreational use and possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. General Assembly leaders say that bill has little chance of passing.

Meanwhile, Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore is sponsoring medical marijuana legislation, as is Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills, who has two bills.

One bill creates authorizations for registered dispensaries and dispensing pharmacies, and the other puts academic medical centers in charge of overseeing medical marijuana programs. Both bills would create a Marijuana Oversight Commission to supervise the operations.

Morhaim and Glenn are working together to try to get one of the bills approved, he said, adding that the academic medical centers’ measure seems to have the best chance of passing. All three bills will be heard March 8 in committee.

“This came out of the Medical Marijuana Workgroup, and was one of their recommendations,” said Morhaim, referring to a 2011 commission to study the creation of a medical marijuana program. The workgroup could not come to consensus on the role of academic institutions, and eventually submitted two sets of recommendations.

In the past, Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Dr. Joshua Sharfstein has said he would only consider a medical marijuana program overseen strictly by academic centers.

Morhaim said his bill has the support of the state medical society, MedChi, and the Legislative Black Caucus, two groups that had not previously supported medical marijuana legislation.

The governor has yet to take a position on any of the bills, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory, but in the past he has threatened to veto bills authorizing dispensing pharmacies.

In 2012, the House passed a medical marijuana bill, but no action was taken in the Senate.

hnunn@gazette.net