What you need to know about the Maryland decriminalization law

 Kevin Cranford
August 11, 2014 8:04 AM

In the state of Maryland, marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, with a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical value. A person arrested for possession of marijuana can be convicted of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both.

As of October 1, 2014, the possession of a small amount of marijuana will no longer be a criminal offense.

 

Maryland’s New Drug Laws Explained

In the state of Maryland, marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, with a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical value. A person arrested for possession of marijuana can be convicted of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both.

As of October 1, 2014, the possession of a small amount of marijuana will no longer be a criminal offense.

Earlier this year, Maryland’s General Assembly voted to change the existing law, making possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana a civil offense, with a penalty similar to a traffic citation. According to the new law:

 

  • The fine for a first offense by adults 21 and older will be $100. No jail sentence will be involved.
  • The fine for a second offense will be $250.
  • A defendant facing a third offense will be required to appear in court, facing a possible $500 fine and the prospect of undergoing drug treatment.

 

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law, noting: “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.”

“The decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana will free up resources to fight violent crime throughout our state,” added Lt. Government Anthony Brown. “We’ll also be able to fund additional substance abuse treatment, drug prevention and job training efforts, and education to teach our young people about the dangers of drug use.”

 

Marijuana paraphernalia not decriminalized

In what may seem like an incongruous situation, marijuana paraphernalia is not decriminalized under the law set to go into effect Oct. 1. While arrest for the possession of such paraphernalia (pipe, rolling papers, etc.) doesn’t include jail time, it remains a misdemeanor offense with a potential $500 fine. (A person with multiple charges of paraphernalia possession faces a possible prison sentence of up to two years.)

Some Maryland officials hope to rectify this situation. Earlier this month, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a resolution asking the Maryland State General Assembly to “decriminalize the possession of devices used to smoke marijuana.”

 

What happens between now and Oct. 1?

As the date for implementation of the new decriminalization law approaches, state officials are taking differing stances on how they handle marijuana possession cases.

Some state attorneys continue to push for criminal convictions (with the possibility of a prison sentence), while others — in Baltimore County and elsewhere — have adopted a more relaxed position. 

According to the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger “typically offers first-time offenders caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana the chance to clear their criminal records quickly by accepting ‘diversion’ into a drug counseling program.” 

Since passage of the new law, however, Shellenberger’s approach has changed. As the Sun notes: “Now, even first-time offenders who do not agree to drug counseling can get their records cleared after three years if they agree to perform 12 hours of community service.”

Beginning in October, Maryland becomes one of more than two dozen states that have either legalized marijuana, decriminalized it in small amounts or approved of its use for medical purposes. It’s a recognition that public attitudes toward marijuana are shifting and that limited police and prosecutorial resources are better applied elsewhere.

“The system doesn’t really change other than we’re not going to be criminalizing individuals with small amounts of marijuana,” says Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a sponsor of the original bill. “I think putting some 23,000 people through a criminal justice system is just a colossal waste of resources, which can be better spent on affecting behavior.”

 

Author Bio:

Michael S. Rothman is a trial attorney from the Law Office of Michael S Rothman. He represents individuals facing marijuana charges in both Federal and State courts.

 

 

 



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