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Area residents differ on decriminalizing marijuana

March 24, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

Teddy Williams of Hagerstown described the measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in Maryland as a “pretty sensible idea.”

“I think a lot of money is being wasted on policing people who really haven’t hurt anybody, and I don’t think there should be a law against it,” Williams, 41, said last week. “It’s not hurting anyone, so I think it just makes sense to decriminalize it at the least, if not legalize it.”

Jay Everly of Hagerstown, however, said he opposes the idea because it will “increase the use of it.”

“I think it’ll lead to more kids smoking it, which would lead to harder dope,” said Everly, 78. “I’m against marijuana being used.”

The Maryland Senate voted 30-16 Tuesday to decriminalize possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, reducing the penalty from up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine to a $100 civil fine and no jail time, according to published reports. The measure still has to be approved by the House of Delegates and signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Joan McClearnon of Knoxville said she supported the measure.

“I don’t think it’s any worse than alcohol or cigarettes,” said McClearnon, 53. “I think this is a first step to getting it legalized.”

Helen Derkowski of Hagerstown said she is against the measure and that the penalty for recreational marijuana should be more severe.

“Too many times people break the law and they know they’re going to get away with a smack on the fingers,” she said. “Well, something like this can wreck your whole life and make you a mess, so there’s more than a smack on the fingers needed for this.”

Derkowski, 65, whose husband is a disabled veteran, said she supports legalizing medical marijuana.

“He is going through some very excruciating back pains and arthritis, so in that respect, I feel that since they won’t give them medications to supersede the pain, that this might be an alternative for these veterans,” she said. “We still need to do something to keep it from falling into the hands of juveniles and people that are doing it for recreation.”

Last year, the penalties for possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana were reduced to the current penalties from a maximum one year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, according to published reports.

Stephen Foster, who grew up in Hagerstown but now lives in Ocean City, Md., and was visiting family in the city Thursday, said marijuana never should have been illegal.

“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” he said. “They hand out more sentences for that than some violent crimes.”

Stephen Hood, 65, of Hagerstown, said he supports the measure and, like McClearnon, believes it to be a “good step” to legalizing the substance, comparing the laws against it to prohibition.

“Prohibition didn’t work, and I think we’re spending a huge amount of resources and money needlessly in trying to enforce the present laws and prosecuting and punishing people,” he said. “The money and resources could be spent elsewhere.”

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