In October 2012, change is coming to criminal courts across the state of Maryland. That change is in the form of substantially lessened penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession. A bill signed into law by Governor O'Malley in May will hopefully dislodge the bottleneck of cases clogging courtrooms by reducing the penalties for minor drug offenses and the way those cases are handled.
The Current Law
Maryland's current marijuana possession law is one of the toughest in the country. Possession of even a small amount of pot - less than 10 grams (one-third of an ounce) - is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. That is more stringent than the laws in every one of the states surrounding Maryland; most of the neighboring states (Virginia, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) offer no more than six months of jail time as a maximum sentence for the identical amount of marijuana. Some of those states even cap out their criminal fines at $500 for first-time, minor pot possession charges.
What Is Changing?
The new law will not only lower the maximum jail term for a misdemeanor marijuana possession - possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana - conviction from one year in jail to 90 days, it also reduces the maximum possible fine for a single offense to $500 (down from $1,000 in the current law). Senator Jamin "Jamie" Raskin, who supported the bill, said that the reduced jail sentences will act as savings advantage for an already taxed criminal justice system.
Bipartisan support for the law came not only from those hoping to save money by reducing jail sentences, but also from those interested in clearing the logjam of minor drug cases in Maryland's busy courtrooms. Under the reformed law, misdemeanor marijuana possession cases will be heard by a criminal court judge, not a jury of the defendant's peers. While a case before a jury can easily take months to adjudicate, judge-heard cases can be decided much quicker.
Even though the penalties for minor marijuana possession will be getting smaller later this year, those allegations still need to be treated seriously and defended against aggressively to prevent reputation damage, a criminal record and the possible loss of career, housing or educational opportunities. If you or a loved one is facing a misdemeanor- or felony-level pot possession charge, seek the advice of a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney.