New Marijuana Legislation in Maryland

New Marijuana Legislation:

On Monday, April 14th, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed Senate Bill 364 which decriminalized possession of small amounts of Marijuana.  The legislation will go into effect on October 1st, 2014. 

What it means: Decriminalization is not the same as legalization, and it is not true that marijuana will be legal in Maryland.  What is true is that people caught by police with small amounts (less than ten grams) of marijuana who are not committing any other crimes, will be issued a citation and the penalty will be civil, rather than criminal.  A preset fine will be provided and offenders can simply pay the fine and not have to appear in court.  While the statute provides for enhanced penalties on second and subsequent violations, it is unclear how the citing officer will be able to determine that the offense is, in fact, a second or subsequent offense. This is especially true because a provision of the legislation makes it so it will not be published on the Maryland Judicial Information System’s website. 

What it does NOT mean: Use or possession of Marijuana is NOT legal, and rolling papers, scales, bongs and pipes (drug paraphernalia) are all still illegal and subject to criminal prosecution, though in most cases the maximum penalty will be a $500 fine. Additionally, if the amount of marijuana is more than 10 grams, criminal penalties will still apply and police will still be able to arrest for that violation. Driving under the influence of marijuana is still a criminal offense and there has been no change to the penalties associated with that.  You can also be certain that family law judges will still have the same amount of concern for allegations of habitual marijuana usage when they are making decisions about custody of dependent children.  If a person has already been charged with a criminal violation, they can still be prosecuted even after the law takes effect on October 1st.

What to watch for: We will have to wait for interpretations of the new law as the courts deal with issues such as: “Plain smell” by officers of marijuana in homes or vehicles—will the mere smell of marijuana be probable cause that criminal activity is afoot? What about drug-sniffing dogs who were trained to react to the smell of marijuana? Can they be re-trained? Will it be a violation of probation to receive or pay out one of these citations?

If you have any questions about the new law please call the Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Alperstein and Diener P.A., Warren S. Alperstein, Andew I. Alperstein, Arthur S. Alperstein, Robert H. Wolf, and Christopher P. Wheatcroft