MD: Washington County Sheriff – Medical Marijuana Poses Problems For Law Enforcement

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Maryland’s new medical cannabis program posed a bit of a quandary for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office when a registered patient became an inmate in the county’s detention center.

The result could be legislation designed to protect law enforcement from lawsuits for declining to distribute it.

Sheriff Douglas Mullendore told members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly last week that the program posed “obstacles” for law enforcement.

“A person who was incarcerated in our detention center … was a registered user of medical marijuana,” he said. “When we would not allow medical marijuana to come into the jail, that attorney decided that they were going to raise a fuss, claimed they were going to sue us, things of that nature.

“I’ve not seen any lawsuits,” Mullendore added, “but it did bring up an issue … there is no prohibition in the law. However, we obviously would not allow an inmate to have it in his cell. So that would require us to maintain it and then distribute it, which is a violation of federal law. And so we are certainly not going to do that.”

Mullendore said most states with medical marijuana have a prohibition against use in correctional facilities and schools. The sheriff said he’d like to see that written into Maryland law, as well.

“So far, we’re the only ones who’ve been approached with that,” he said, but he believes it will become more prevalent as the program expands.

Sens. George Edwards, R-Washington/Allegany/Garrett, and Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, filed a bill Friday to prohibit distribution in correctional facilities in Washington County.

Another problem, Mullendore said, occurs when officers come across people who have marijuana in their possession. There currently is no standard for identifying patients registered in the medical cannabis program, he said.

The regulations do not require them to have an identifying card, Mullendore said.

“They can possess a card if they pay $50; there’s no requirement for them to carry it, there’s no requirement for them to get a card and there’s no requirement for them to show that card to law enforcement.

“The only way we have to … identify whether this individual is registered for medical marijuana is if we have their 16-digit code provided by the (medical cannabis) commission,” he added, and there’s no requirement for a patient to provide that number for law enforcement.

There’s also a problem with packaging for medical marijuana, Mullendore said. While it’s packaged in a special container when it leaves dispensaries, the patient — or caregiver — can remove it and store it elsewhere.

But these patients are immune from prosecution, so law enforcement could be sued for arresting them for possession or seizing the pot when officers don’t know the patients are in the program.

“And we can’t return the marijuana because that puts us in violation of federal law, also,” he said.

What’s needed, Mullendore said, is a method of identifying a patient or caregiver, requiring them to provide the information to law enforcement officers.

Delegation Chairman Neil Parrott, R-Washington, said the lawmakers would file legislation to do that.