Maryland is set to become the 17th state to decriminalize marijuana. Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley released a statement on Monday, saying he intended to sign legislation that would mean those found in possession of small amounts of the drug would not face jail time. Governor O'Malley said that the decriminalization bill had majority support in the state, and that under current state laws, few defendants in marijuana cases go to prison as a matter of "judicial economy and prosecutorial discretion."

Violent crime is at its lowest in Maryland in 30 years, and the governor said the new law would allow law enforcement officials to keep their focus on more serious crimes. "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," he said in the statement. "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."

Governor O'Malley said he would sign the bill when it reached him

Marijuana is decriminalized in many US states, but the drug can only be bought and sold legally in Washington and Colorado. Under Maryland's proposed laws, people found in possession of small amounts of marijuana can still be fined, and those discovered to have large amounts, designed for sale or trafficking, can be arrested. Further legislation is likely: recent studies suggest that 75 percent of Americans believe marijuana will eventually be legalized across the country, and that 58 percent of the population support that change.