A Telling Moment for Martin O’Malley — and His Presidential Ambitions?

That the Maryland governor will sign off on a state marijuana decriminalization bill speaks volumes about his national viability.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Lucia Graves
April 7, 2014, 1:44 p.m.

Mary­land Gov. Mar­tin O’Mal­ley will sign a bill de­crim­in­al­iz­ing the pos­ses­sion of small amounts of marijuana as ex­pec­ted, his of­fice an­nounced late Monday. The le­gis­la­tion, which would im­pose civil fines rather than crim­in­al sanc­tions on any­one caught with less than half an ounce of the stuff, was ap­proved by the state Sen­ate in the fi­nal hours of its 90-day ses­sion.

The move comes after the gov­ernor faced con­sid­er­able pres­sure, both loc­ally and na­tion­ally, to re­form state marijuana le­gis­la­tion.

It’s a telling mo­ment for O’Mal­ley, who’s been tour­ing the coun­try and talk­ing up the pos­sib­il­ity of a 2016 pres­id­en­tial run. It also sig­nals a broad­er shift to­ward more lib­er­al marijuana policies.

Long be­fore he was elec­ted gov­ernor, O’Mal­ley be­came may­or of Bal­timore run­ning on a tough-on-crime plat­form. But in the past year, he has shif­ted away from that im­age, craft­ing one bill that es­tab­lished the state’s med­ic­al-marijuana pro­gram (al­beit a flawed one) and an­oth­er giv­ing law en­force­ment dis­cre­tion as to wheth­er to ar­rest someone for marijuana pos­ses­sion or simply is­sue a cita­tion.

In a state­ment re­leased around 5 p.m. Monday, O’Mal­ley ac­know­ledged his evol­u­tion. His full re­marks, which down­play the move — mak­ing the le­gis­la­tion sound like a mere form­al­ity — are be­low.

With more ef­fect­ive poli­cing and more widely avail­able drug treat­ment, to­geth­er in Mary­land, we have driv­en vi­ol­ent crime down to its low­est levels in 30 years. This pro­gress has been hard-won and much re­mains to be done. Re­cent spikes in hom­icides and heroin over­dose deaths un­der­score the life-sav­ing ur­gency of the work be­fore us.

The Gen­er­al As­sembly has de­cided after much con­sid­er­a­tion — and with clear ma­jor­it­ies in both Cham­bers — to send to my desk a bill that would de­crim­in­al­ize the pos­ses­sion of small amounts of marijuana, and I plan to sign it.

As a mat­ter of ju­di­cial eco­nomy and pro­sec­utori­al dis­cre­tion, few if any de­fend­ants go to pris­on for a first or even a second of­fense of marijuana pos­ses­sion in Mary­land. De­su­et­ude is of­ten a pre­curs­or of re­form.

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.

What We're Following See More »
McMullin Leads in New Utah Poll
33 minutes ago

Evan McMul­lin came out on top in a Emer­son Col­lege poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clin­ton took third with 24%. Gary John­son re­ceived 5% of the vote in the sur­vey.

Quinnipiac Has Clinton Up by 7
34 minutes ago

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll finds Hillary Clin­ton lead­ing Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” van­ished from the uni­versity’s early Oc­to­ber poll. A new PPRI/Brook­ings sur­vey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a vir­tu­al dead heat, with Trump tak­ing 41% of the vote to Clin­ton’s 40% in a four-way match­up.

Trump: I’ll Accept the Results “If I Win”
1 hours ago
Duterte Throws His Lot in with China
4 hours ago

During a state visit to China, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "declared an end to his country’s strategic alignment with the United States and pledged cooperation with Beijing." Duterte told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he's "realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world—China, Philippines, and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Hatch Considering 2018 Re-election Run
5 hours ago

Reports say that Orrin Hatch, who in 2012 declared that he would retire at the end of his term, is considering going back on that pledge to run for an eighth term. Hatch, who is the longest serving Republican in the Senate, is unlikely to make any official declaration until after this election cycle is completed.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.