The purpose of the following post is to answer some frequently asked questions concerning the brand new Maryland marijuana citation law, set to take effect on October 1, 2014, and to offer some professional speculation on how this new law will interact with existing marijuana laws. Please keep in mind that this blog post is not legal advice. Legal advice can only come from a licensed attorney who is familiar with the unique facts and circumstances of your case. If you have been charged with violating one of Maryland’s marijuana laws, even if you’ve only received a civil citation for possessing marijuana, you are strongly encouraged to speak to a lawyer about your rights and your responsibilities.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: What is the new Maryland marijuana citation law and when does that law take effect?
A: The new Maryland marijuana civil citation law makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana by adults over 21 a fine-only offense. The new law takes effect on October 1, 2014.
Q: How much can I be fined for possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana in Maryland?
A: Under the new civil law a first Maryland marijuana citation can carry a fine up to $100.00. A second or a third citation can result in fines up to $250.00 and $500.00, respectively.
Q: What penalties can someone under age 21 receive for possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana?
A: A person under 21 who is found guilty of the civil offense of possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana can have his driver’s license suspended, can be ordered to participate in a substance abuse education or treatment program, and can be ordered to participate in a work program.
Q: After the new law takes effect, will it still be possible to be sentenced to jail for possessing marijuana?
A: Yes. The old criminal law for CDS Possession: Marijuana remains on the books. Someone charged under this law faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail for possession of marijuana. Possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute also remains a felony crime, punishable by a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
Q: When will someone be charged with possession of marijuana under the old criminal laws instead of the new civil law?
A: At this time I can only speculate. It appears that the old marijuana possession law is being left on the books to be used in cases involving 10 or more grams of marijuana. The language of the old statute does not prohibit it from being used in cases involving less than 10 grams of marijuana, however. This means that police officers, court commissioners, and state’s attorneys will have the discretion to choose which law to apply in each particular case. Maryland’s judges will have the final say. My best guess is that persons who are found in possession of quantities of marijuana larger than 10 grams and marijuana accompanied by evidence of distribution activities –items such as scales, packaging materials, stacked money, etc.– will likely face criminal charges and possible jail sentences. With that said, I expect that there will be major differences in how the marijuana laws are used among the different Maryland jurisdictions.
Q: What effect will the new Maryland marijuana law have on my existing probation?
A: If you are currently on probation as a result of being convicted of possessing marijuana then nothing will change. You must complete your probation. Any failure to abide by the terms of your probation can result in a violation and potential jail time. For persons who are required to submit to drug testing, it appears that test results indicating marijuana use can still serve as the basis for a violation of probation.
Q: Besides having to pay a fine, what negative consequences can come from a civil citation for marijuana?
A: Being found guilty under the new civil law can come with some serious negative consequences. It’s important to remember that marijuana remains illegal in most other states and under current federal law. It would be safe to assume that a civil citation for possession of marijuana could negatively impact your career or school opportunities. The usual methods of doing background checks will reveal civil citations just as easily as criminal convictions. Persons who have government jobs or security clearances may face enhanced scrutiny if found guilty and should carefully consider how to handle any marijuana case. It’s important to understand that paying a marijuana citation may equate to a confession to violating a federal law.
Q: Can I get my a civil citation expunged once the case is complete?
A: Expungements are available for criminal cases only. There are other procedures for removing records from civil cases from public view, including shielding and sealing.
Q: Can the police search my house, my car, or my person if they believe that I have marijuana?
A: This is an interesting constitutional question. For now, the answer is most likely yes. Due to the fact that criminal laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana remain on the books, we should expect that police will continue to search and seize marijuana when they have probable cause, your consent, or a search warrant signed by a judge. Although Maryland has embarked on the road to decriminalization, the state is far from getting there.
Q: What happens if I am caught driving while smoking marijuana?
A: In addition to receiving a civil citation for possession of marijuana, a stoned driver will likely be charged for driving while impaired or driving under the influence. These are serious offenses that carry possible jail time, a license suspension, and can trigger huge increases to insurance premiums. Driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous and illegal.
Q: Is it still a crime to possess marijuana paraphernalia?
A: Yes. Maryland has not repealed the criminal law that forbids someone to possess drug paraphernalia. Paraphernalia can mean a broad range of things including pipes, rolling papers, water pipes, grinders, baggies, and other items. Someone found guilty of possessing paraphernalia can be sentenced to pay a fine up to $500.00. While possession of paraphernalia doesn’t carry potential jail time, a guilty finding represents a misdemeanor conviction. Criminal convictions usually come with collateral consequences.
Q: Why would Maryland lawmakers decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana while allowing the criminal law for possession of paraphernalia and other criminal laws to remain on the books?
A: Maryland’s marijuana decriminalization bill moved quickly and somewhat unexpectedly from bill to law in 2013. Maryland’s governor originally promised to veto it. When he changed his mind, it caught many lawmakers by surprise. Had there been consistent support for the bill from the beginning, there likely would have been more work put into harmonizing the multiple statutes that make up Maryland’s marijuana law. For the time being, it’s legally possible for someone to receive a civil citation for possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana and, at the same time, receive a criminal citation for possessing the plastic bag that holds that marijuana.
Q: Do I need a lawyer to represent me for a civil citation?
A: Maybe. If you are concerned that being found guilty could cause trouble for you at work, in school, or in some other endeavor, then you should speak with a lawyer about your case. You have the right to put on a defense. A lawyer can assist you in putting on your best defense. A lawyer can also assist you in removing the court record of your civil citation case from public view.
Q: Where can I get more information about my Maryland civil citation for marijuana and Maryland marijuana laws?
The past couple of years have seen a number of major changes to Maryland’s marijuana laws. More changes are in store for the immediate future. Anyone searching the web for information on Maryland marijuana citations, Maryland civil citations for marijuana, or for recent changes to Maryland marijuana laws needs to be very careful. Internet content that is more than a few months old cannot accurately reflect the current state of Maryland’s rapidly changing marijuana law.
Matthew Baum is a lawyer with offices in Baltimore, Catonsville, and Columbia, Maryland. As a part of his criminal defense practice, he has defended thousands of people accused of violating Maryland marijuana laws. If you or someone you care about has received a citation for possession of marijuana and you don’t know what to do about it, you are invited to contact Matthew Baum and Baum Law Offices at (410) 929-3435.