Maryland’s Reduced Penalty for Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana

Maryland’s governor just recently signed a new law which reduces the penalties for possession of a small amount of marijuana. The law differentiates between possession of marijuana less than 10 grams and of greater than 10 grams. This law is set to go into effect on October 1, 2012.

Current Law
Currently the possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor which carries a maximum of one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine (with the exception of medical necessity possession). The current law is not specific on the amount of marijuana for simple possession.

Future Change in the Penalty for Minor Marijuana Possession
The new bill that was signed into law divides up the penalties for possession of marijuana based on the amount. There will be a reduced penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. Once the new law is in place, the maximum penalty will be 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine for possession of under 10 grams. Additionally, if someone is given a sentence of future executed jail time (meaning that the person has to serve additional, non-suspended, jail time) for possession of under 10 grams of marijuana, that sentence must be stayed by the court without an appeal bond if the defendant elects to appeal.

What this New Law Means for Practical Purposes
This is another signal, along with the medical necessity law, that Maryland views marijuana in a different light than other drugs. This is a step in the direction towards decriminalizing, which is where the US as a country may be eventually headed.

In Maryland, defendants have the right to a jury trial if the maximum penalty for a crime they are charged with exceeds 90 days in jail. Under the new law, a defendant who is only charged with possession of under 10 grams of marijuana will no longer have the ability to pray a jury trial. This was part of the intent of the lawmakers, as it will help keep the Circuit Courts free of these minor possession cases and instead have them all handled in the District Court.

There is also the issue of determining the weight of the marijuana. Most police officers list a specific weighted amount of marijuana in the charging documents, or the statement of probable cause, when the defendant is charged with possession of marijuana. This weighted amount on the scene is almost always higher than the actual weighted amount that is determined in the police drug chemist report. Thus, it’s likely that someone who is initially suspected of having somewhere between 10-13 grams of marijuana on the scene may actually have had less than 10 grams. Once the drug report shows that it is under 10 grams, will the State’s Attorney try to amend the charge to the lesser offense? Will the State initially charge defendants with both possession of less than 10 grams and over 10 grams for cases such as these? I guess the only way to find out will be to wait and see what happens after October 1st. Regardless, this should be a win for everyone–defendants who are not excessively penalized for minor marijuana possession, prosecutors who can focus their efforts on more serious crimes, and the courts who won’t have their dockets filled with jury trials for these petty victimless offenses.

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