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New Maryland Law: Marijuana Decriminalized

police arresting man

The United States has been passing marijuana decriminalization laws all across the country. As of October 1, 2014, marijuana is now decriminalized in Maryland, meaning it will be treated as a civil offense as opposed to a criminal offense; however, marijuana is still illegal.

 

Medical marijuana (marijuana prescribed by your doctor for pain) is legal, but only the dosage prescribed to you. It is illegal to distribute the drug, by selling or otherwise, to anyone for any purpose.

 

What is it?

 

Under the new law, you will only be charged with a civil offense if you are arrested carrying less than 10 grams of marijuana. If you are arrested with more than 10 grams of marijuana, you will be charged with a criminal offense. The idea behind this is you will only be charged with a civil offense if you are charged with possession (less than 10 grams); however, if you have more than 10 grams, it is considered more dangerous to yourself and it is assumed you could have intent to sell.

 

To read the full text of the Senate bill in its entirety, click here.

 

Penalties and Fines

 

A “civil offense” is generally a minor offense. Civil cases can be between 2 individuals or you and the state. Usually they result in fines and/or short jail time. Common civil offenses include:

 

  • Traffic Offenses
  • Landlord Disputes
  • Divorces
  • Personal Injury Cases (such as slip and falls and car accidents)

 

A criminal offense, however, would be a crime such as:

 

  • Murder
  • Armed Robbery
  • Assault
  • Drug Trafficking

 

This law has moved possession of marijuana from the criminal offense list to the civil offense list.

 

Because it is now a civil offense, offenders now face fines instead of serious jail time. The offenses with their associated fines are listed below:

 

  1. $100 fine
  2. $250 fine
  3. $500 fine + Mandatory Drug Education Program

 

Teenagers are also required to attend a drug education program regardless of the offense or the amount of marijuana on them at the time of their arrest.

 

You will have the option to simply pay the fine (admitting guilt) or request a trial date. At your trial date, you can fight the citation and force the government to prove your guilt. It is important to note that the standard of evidence required for a conviction is by a “preponderance of the evidence,” a lesser standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.

 

From Our Perspective

 

Can you still be arrested even if you have less than 10 grams of marijuana? Maybe. One important aspect that the new law does not address is drug paraphernalia. Paraphernalia is virtually anything used to administer or package drugs. This includes rolling papers, blunts, bowls, bongs, plastic bags, etc. Despite decriminalizing marijuana less than 10 grams, possession of drug paraphernalia remains a criminal offense. So if you are caught smoking a joint, the papers that the marijuana is wrapped in are considered paraphernalia and you may be placed under arrest. Decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana while allowing the possession of objects containing marijuana to remain a criminal offense does not make much sense. Hopefully, this discrepancy will be addressed by the lawmakers sooner rather than later.

 

As criminal defense lawyers, we see a serious flaw in this law: law enforcement officers’ estimates.

 

It stands to reason that there will be arrests with the assumption that the amount was greater than 10 grams, even though it was not. There will also likely be fines charged as under 10 grams when it is actually more than 10 grams. It’s a gray region that causes concern among criminal defense lawyers around the state. State troopers will not be carrying a mini scale in their pocket or in their vehicles, so they have to guess what they think is more (or less) than 10 grams. It stands to reason that unlawful arrests will be made.

 

Contact our law offices if you believe you are being falsely charged for us to review your case.

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