Maryland's Marijuana Laws Change On Wednesday, Oct. 1.

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Maryland's marijuana laws change on Wednesday, Oct. 1. Along with that come changes – albeit not many – to the way police approach marijuana possession. In the last general assembly, lawmakers passed legislation that decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, making it a civil offense instead of a criminal offense. Civil offenses do not require jail time. Those charged with possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana will now face fines of up to $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for the third.

A drug education program and drug abuse disorder testing is required for third or subsequent offenses, along with a trip to court. Those who are 18 or older, but younger than 21, will be required to see a judge from the first offense. Really the thing that people are losing sight of is they're confused with decriminalization and legalization," said Lt. Greg Wright of the Easton Police Department. "This is still illegal to possess."

Though offenders will be given a civil citation instead of a criminal citation, Wright said the way Easton police officers do business won't change much. Wright said that with civil citations, police don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that people committed the crime, just by a preponderance of evidence. Search and seizure laws don't change much, Wright said, so officers can still search a vehicle through probable cause if they smell marijuana from a vehicle or if a police K-9 dog gives a positive alert.

Lt. John Bollinger, of the Talbot County Sheriff's Office, said marijuana, even 10 or less grams of it, will still be confiscated by police and sent to Maryland State Police labs for testing and weighing. Police officers will have to make the determination on-scene about whether an amount of marijuana is less than 10 grams. Bollinger said the sheriff's office is telling its deputies that if they can't decide whether a quantity of marijuana is less than 10 grams to give the person a civil citation and then weigh the marijuana at the police station.

As far as processing civil and criminal offenders, Bollinger said the sheriff's office currently releases criminal offenders charged with possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana without seeing a court commissioner. "But now it's civil, so we can't bring them into the office," Bollinger said. "It'll all be done on scene. You hand them a civil citation and away they go." Bollinger said the law is going to make it harder for police to enforce marijuana possession. It is still a crime to sell marijuana of any weight. The law doesn't change for any kind of drug paraphernalia. "Any baggie you keep it in, anything you smoke it in is all paraphernalia," Bollinger said. "That's still a crime."

Come Oct. 1, there would be no jail time option as a penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, but jail time is still a penalty option for those charged with paraphernalia possession. So, while possessing the marijuana in the joint won't be a criminal offense on Oct. 1, possessing the joint paper would be, or the bag that the pot is in. "If the laws are still on the books, we're going to enforce them," Bollinger said. But, Wright said, police departments have been told not to make a lot of cases just to circumvent the law using paraphernalia charges. Wright said another thing that wasn't discussed in the law is the concentration of THC, as some THC oil could have a greater potency than the leafy matter.

"I don't think many people will argue the passage of this law was done quickly," Wright said. "Not everything was really thought about when they did this, hence the paraphernalia aspect, hence the concentration aspect of this." The bill made it out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, through the legislative process in both houses, and passed into law in less than 30 days in March through early April, which is a timeframe when a lot of bills are being pushed through the General Assembly before session ends.

But both Wright and Bollinger said lawmakers have already expressed interest in going back to the bill and fixing some of the loopholes that currently exist with the law. Henry Dove, chief trial counsel for the Talbot County State's Attorney's Office, said criminal versus civil charges will be based on when someone is caught by police with less than 10 grams of marijuana and charged, not when the offender is scheduled for court. "The laws that you're charged with will be based on when you got charged," Dove said. "So if you were charged before the law changes, then you're subject to the same penalties that were applied then."



News Moderator - The General @ 420 MAGAZINE ®
Source: Myeasternshoremd.com
Author: Josh Bollinger
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Website: Maryland's Marijuana Laws Change On Wednesday, Oct. 1.