New and proposed changes could lead to more moderate Maryland drug laws

After decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, Maryland lawmakers may make other changes to reduce sanctions for low-level drug offenses.

Each year, many Upper Marlboro residents are arrested for drug violations and face related criminal charges. In 2013 alone, 48,983 people were arrested for these violations in Maryland, according to the Uniform Crime Report. Sadly, even people who are arrested for victimless violations, such as drug possession, may face steep sanctions, such as jail time and the long-term challenges of living with a criminal record.

Fortunately for these people, Maryland lawmakers have recently enacted or weighed various changes to existing drug laws. These changes could result in fewer people facing steep or life-changing sanctions for low-level offenses.

Recent legal changes

In October 2014, a Maryland law that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana became effective. According to The Washington Post, possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is still illegal. However, a violation now results in a civil citation and fine, rather than criminal charges.

During the 2015 legislative session, state lawmakers passed several measures that further reduce criminal penalties for drug-related violations. According to WYPR News, these include:

  • Decriminalizing the possession of marijuana paraphernalia
  • Removing mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level offenses
  • Increasing the evidence standards that authorities must meet to seize property under asset forfeiture laws

Lawmakers have also considered allowing the expungement of past charges involving violations that no longer are considered criminal offenses.

According to The Carroll County Times, Gov. Larry Hogan must approve or veto all of these bills prior to June 2. If any of these initiatives succeed, they could help reduce the number of people facing steep sanctions for mild drug violations in Maryland.

Potential effects

Some of the recent or proposed legal changes could also have unexpected effects on other drug-related criminal charges. For example, The Carroll County Times notes that it could become more difficult for authorities to establish probable cause in cases involving marijuana or even other illicit substances.

If possessing marijuana paraphernalia is decriminalized, authorities may have limited cause to conduct searches for marijuana. In the past, the scent of marijuana may have provided adequate cause to justify a search. However, this may no longer be the case, since a legal amount of marijuana could also produce the same odors.

The difficulty of distinguishing between legal marijuana and illegal drugs could also limit authorities in using narcotic detection dogs. These dogs may alert to marijuana as well as other controlled substances. An alert alone may not decisively indicate that large amounts of marijuana or other drugs are present. Therefore, the validity of searches resulting from alerts might be questionable.

Addressing criminal charges

Although Maryland may be moving toward less stringent sanctions for certain drug violations, many offenses can still have significant consequences. For this reason, it is important for anyone facing drug-related charges in the state to consider speaking with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may be able to offer advice on recent legal changes and potential means of challenging criminal charges.

Keywords: drug, criminal, charges, legal, The Carroll County Times, bills