Maryland Decriminalizes Weed

The following first appeared in Cannabis Now: 

[This week] marks the official start of Maryland’s decriminalization law. Under Senate Bill 364, people can legally carry up to 10 grams of pot without the risk getting arrested and possibly facing jail time. Earlier this year, Democratic Senator Bobby Zirkin sponsored the bill, which reduces the severity of the charge for adults over the age of 18 being caught with marijuana. Shortly after, Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use into law.

Now, offenders over 21 will be fined $100 for a first offense and $250 for a second offense. Following a third offense, there will be a $500 fine and the offender will have to appear in court and possibly be assigned to mandatory time in a drug treatment program. People between the ages of 18 and 20, will have to go to court on the first offense and could be referred to a drug education course. Minors under the age of 18 are not protected under the decriminalization law.

Interestingly, the law doesn’t cover the possession of paraphernalia associated with smoking marijuana including rolling papers, pipes, bongs, vaporizers or rigs, so residents can still potentially be arrested if these items are discovered on them. Penalties for paraphernalia may be reduced or eliminated by next year.

This change in legislation, reducing cannabis possession from a criminal offense to a civil offense, will potentially save the state large amounts money by allowing law enforcement to spend less of the state’s finances on prosecuting people for small offenses. Additionally, thousands of Marylandresidents will no longer face harsh penalties for having legal amounts of cannabis in their possession.

“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,” O’Malleysaid. “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgment of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.”

Maryland joins the 17 other states that currently have decriminalization laws in place including Washington, D.C. and Vermont. Governor O’Malley also recently signed House Bill 881, which allows qualified patients to have limited access to cannabis under the state’s medical marijuanaprogram, making Maryland the 21st medical state.

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