SALISBURY – Questions and concerns continue to surround proposed legislation on public marijuana consumption.
On Tuesday, Wicomico County NAACP President Mary Ashanti came before the Wicomico County Council opposing legislation that would prohibit smoking marijuana in public areas and in vehicles.
“Passing this ordinance will create more problems between law enforcement agencies and people of color,” she said. “I’ve talked to different segments of the community and they all feel the same way. We urge you to not pass this proposed ordinance.”
In January, Wicomico County State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes, Deputy State’s Attorney Bill McDermott and Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis presented the council with proposed legislation that mirrored a recently adopted ordinance in Fruitland.
Not only does the legislation prohibit marijuana consumption in vehicles and public areas, but makes it a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment not to exceed 90 days.
“Just because marijuana now has an exception and you can possess marijuana legally by way of a medical marijuana card, it doesn’t mean you should be allowed to consume marijuana in public, as the statute says, on public street fares, sidewalks, in a shopping center or, more importantly, in your vehicle,” McDermott told the council last month.
After that initial meeting, officials with the state’s attorney’s office reached out to members of the community and those in the medical marijuana industry to address their concerns. From those discussions, McDermott presented the council late last month with new verbiage in the legislation.
“The last time we met there were some concern that the definition of consumption would prohibit the application of certain topical medications that certain patients needed to alleviate their medical conditions …” he said. “We are proposing to change the word consume to smoke.”
At a council meeting on Feb. 4, however, Salisbury resident Steve Merritt said he still had concerns and questions about the proposed legislation. He urged county leaders to consider his concerns.
“I would like to see more information,” he said. “I would like to see more community involvement.”
In a public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Ashanti said the NAACP supported the use of medical marijuana, but opposed the use of recreational marijuana as well as the legislation being proposed by county officials.
“We do not support the proposed marijuana ordinance by State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes and Sheriff Mike Lewis …,” she said. “African Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rate of whites, yet both ethnicities consume marijuana at roughly the same rate.”