As the battle over whether marijuana should be legalized rages across the United States, a new bill has been introduced in the Maryland State Legislature that would decriminalize the use and/or possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Maryland Senate Bill 297 ("SB 297"), proposed by Senator Bobby Zirkin, would eliminate the potential for jail time as a punishment for possession of marijuana in favor of a maximum fine of $100. Further, SB 297 would remove the offense of simple marijuana possession from the state criminal code. This constitutes possession of anything less than ten grams. The measure would reclassify the offense similar to a traffic violation and offenders would only be subject to a fine.
Former Baltimore and Maryland State Police Officer and current Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Neill Franklin, a thirty four year law enforcement veteran, was scheduled to provide testimony regarding SB 297 at a hearing last Tuesday. During a 2011 interview , Franklin argued that current state marijuana rules force law enforcement to waste significant time and resources making arrests for minor offenses such as simple possession and that police would be better served dedicating their time to solving serious crimes.
According to Franklin, "The current laws force police officers in Maryland to waste hour after hour processing marijuana possession arrests. Can you imagine how many more burglaries, rapes and murders we could solve if we put these wasted man-hours toward good use? Marijuana prohibition constitutes a serious threat to public safety."
Also scheduled for Tuesday's hearing was a presentation by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron about his recent study regarding the cost of enforcing marijuana laws. Miron's study determined that Maryland spends over $236 million annually to enforce its marijuana laws, most of which is devoted to prosecuting criminal cases. The study concluded that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana would not only decrease the caseload for public defenders and prosecutors but also the dockets of local and state courts.
As has been discussed previously by this blog, the seriousness of marijuana offenses is dependent largely upon the amount of drugs involved. Under Maryland Annotated Code §5-601, anyone who uses or possesses marijuana is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both. However, traffickers of marijuana, individuals in possession of large amounts of marijuana, or those who have previously been convicted of drug offenses may be subject to prosecution for more serious offenses with harsher penalties.
Further complicating this situation is that, even if Maryland votes to decriminalize marijuana possession, federal law still prohibits it. Accordingly, even though a person might be legally in possession under Maryland law, they could still be subjected to prosecution under federal law.
The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals charged with drug crimes in both state and federal courts. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.