On the Radical Drug Legalization Movement in Annapolis

Crossposted at Maryland Reporter


As the Maryland General Assembly’s 2016 session is moving towards its conclusion, the direction of the legislature on a number of issues is becoming clearer. One such issue is the legalization or decriminalization of drugs and drug related crimes.

Prior to the election of 2014, there was a full court press to legalize marijuana in Maryland both for recreational and medicinal uses.  Many in the marijuana legalization movement were convinced that Maryland was the next Colorado and would quickly join the states legalizing and taxing pot sales.  Instead, the best proponents could pass was a complex medical marijuana regime, still being worked out in detail, and a ham handed decriminalization effort that still has left many details unresolved.

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The proponents of marijuana legalization have not stopped.  This year alone, they overturned a veto by the Governor of a bill which decriminalized possession of drug paraphernalia and made public consumption of marijuana less penalized than public consumption of alcohol.  In addition, marijuana advocates introduced bills to create a constitutional right to marijuana and to allow dentists, podiatrists and even nurse midwives to recommend medical marijuana to patients, including pregnant women, among numerous other proposals.

But the drug legalization effort does not end with marijuana. It has become much more radical than simply legalizing pot.

In 2013, in commenting on the folly of marijuana legalization, I wrote the following:

This creeping approach to legalization of marijuana is always bolstered by arguments that also support legalization of all drugs. It is pretty obvious where the drug legalization advocates next target is and what their ultimate goal will be: full legalization of all drugs. Of course, few advocates would dare say such a thing openly, but the direction of their logic is straightforward and undeniable.

At the time, such suggestions were considered inflammatory and I was criticized during a radio forum on the issue by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Baltimore County) for making such claims. He and others insisted that they opposed legalization of dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine and such “slippery slope” arguments were baseless fear mongering.

A number of proposals in this year’s General Assembly session, however, show clearly that there is, in fact, a very radical drug legalization movement among many Maryland legislators.

Del. Don Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) introduced a bill, HB 1119, which would have decriminalized small amounts of all controlled substances including heroin, cocaine and other highly dangerous and addictive drugs. Del. Morhaim justified his proposal by making the same argument that marijuana advocates had made years earlier, namely that decriminalization of all drugs would free up police resources and reduce incarceration of drug users.

Such an argument is logically consistent with the proponents of marijuana legalization who constantly mention the “failed War On Drugs”.  After all, as I mentioned in 2013, legalizing marijuana will not end the “War on Drugs” and such arguments militate that all drugs be legalized.

But the movement to remove criminal penalties for drug users has gone far beyond crimes dealing with drug use and possession. Taking an even more radical step, Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City) introduced a bill, HB 1362, which sought to remove criminal penalties for particular robbery, burglary and theft offenses where the perpetrator is a drug addict.

Such a proposal exceeds any justification by drug legalization advocates that the government has no business regulating what citizens do behind closed doors. In fact, it is hard to imagine how even the most libertarian drug legalization proponent could justify a law which the property rights of an innocent victim simply because the criminal is a drug addict.  Indeed, the decriminalization of property crimes coupled with a decriminalization of possession of even the most harmful and addictive drugs is a license for destructive behavior and a recipe for the destabilization of civil society.

With these proposals, it is clear that the movement toward drug legalization will not end with even the full legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.  Rather, there exists a radical movement in the legislature actively seeking to remove all criminal penalties for the use any drug and even for crimes committed in furtherance of drug addiction. This was the predictable goal of legalization advocates who insisted just a couple of years ago that removing the criminal penalties of marijuana use was their ultimate purpose.

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