UPDATE: Maryland law will allow police to issue civil citations instead of criminal citations for possession of marijuana less than 10 grams starting October 1, 2014. Please see the new Maryland Marijuana Citation and Civil Citation FAQ for important changes to Maryland Marijuana law after on or after October 1, 2014. The following post is made available for reference and does not reflect the current state of Maryland state law at this time.
In my career as a criminal defense lawyer I have represented more than 1,000 people accused of violating marijuana laws in the state of Maryland. Among the many questions I’ve heard from those clients, the most frequently asked would have to be “am I going to jail for possession of marijuana in Maryland?” Most people do not have a clear idea of the Maryland marijuana penalties they are facing when they go to court for their case. As of the beginning of 2014, against the backdrop of two states (Colorado and Washington) legalizing marijuana for recreational use, other states making its possession a fine-only offense, and legislators in Annapolis introducing bills aimed at legalizing marijuana in Maryland, the people I speak with are probably more confused about Maryland marijuana penalties now than ever before. Simply put, at this time, marijuana remains illegal in the state Maryland. According to current state law, sentences for marijuana possession can include fines and jail time for a first offense.
Please understand that what follows is not legal advice. If you are accused of breaking the law then you need to speak to a criminal defense lawyer right away. What follows is meant to provide general information about the Maryland marijuana penalties currently on the books and, perhaps more importantly, how those penalties are actually being used by the courts in the Maryland jurisdictions in which I practice.
Maryland Marijuana Possession Laws
As a starting point, possession of marijuana in Maryland can be charged in the three following ways:
1. CDS Possession of Marijuana Less Than 10 Grams (This kind of case is frequently charged with a Maryland marijuana citation. See my post here concerning these cases.)
2. CDS Possession of Marijuana
3. CDS Possession of Marijuana with the Intent to Distribute
Maryland Marijuana Penalties Set By Statute
Each one of the offenses above comes with a different maximum possible penalty. The maximum penalty for each offense specifies some amount of jail time and some dollar amount for a fine. Without specific statutory justification, judges may not exceed these maximums. The maximum possible penalties for the three charges above are as follows:
1. CDS Possession of Marijuana Less Than 10 Grams: 90 days in jail and or a $500 fine UPDATE: As of October 1, 2014, possession of Marijuana Less Than 10 Grams is a civil offense. The maximum penalty for a first time offender 21 years old or older is a $100.00 fine. Note that there still may be collateral consequences related to work, school, security clearances, etc.
2. CDS Possession of Marijuana: 1 year in jail and or a $1000 fine. UPDATE: As of early 2015, this law remains in effect. I have seen it used in cases where the defendant is alleged to have possessed more than 10 grams of marijuana.
3. CDS Possession of Marijuana with the Intent to Distribute: 5 years in jail and or a $15,000 fine. UPDATE: As of 2015 this law is still in effect.
At the time this post is being written, these penalties represent the absolute most severe criminal sanctions that a defendant can receive in Maryland for the corresponding marijuana offenses. Please understand that these are maximums. It is extremely rare for a defendant convicted of one of these marijuana offenses to get the maximum possible penalty for his case. In my experience, maximum penalties seem to be reserved for defendants who have lengthy criminal records or who are currently on probation or parole. In practice, maximum penalties are not typically used for people with clean criminal records who are found guilty of possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Note that Maryland statutes allow the State to seek enhanced penalties in some repeat offender cases. This will not be covered in this post.
Some Common Maryland Marijuana Penalties
Maryland marijuana penalties are, in practice, significantly lighter than the statutory maximum penalties described above. Please understand that the information below does not come from a law-book or from any particular court decision. By no means should this information be thought of as law. If you are currently pending a marijuana case in Maryland, then you may be facing a better or worse sentence than the ones listed below.
1. CDS Possession of Marijuana Less Than 10 Grams: UPDATE: this section no longer apples due to the new civil ciattion law that took effect in October, 2014. Upon a finding of guilt in the District Court, I frequently see these cases result in fines of $100 to $300. Court costs add roughly $60 to the total amount of the fine. These fines often come with some kind of probation. Sometimes, in cases where the defendant has a clean record and the facts are not egregious, the court will sentence him to a period of unsupervised probation. Particularly for young defendants in their late teens and early twenties, there is an increased possibility that a sentence will include supervised probation. This means probation with mandatory meetings, rules, and often drug screening and treatment. Note that under this statute, if a defendant is sentenced to any period of jail time by the District Court judge, he may appeal his case and immediately have the sentence stayed, meaning he doesn’t have to go to jail while his appeal is pending. In cases where the defendant was arrested and booked, I have occasionally seen a sentence of “time served.” While small fines and unsupervised probation may not seem like serious punishment, it’s important to understand that, in small marijuana cases, it’s usually the criminal conviction itself that is the most serious penalty. Any criminal conviction, even one that comes with a light sentence, can negatively affect job prospects, school admissions, professional licensing, student loans, and other important parts of a defendant’s life. Sometimes courts are willing to set aside guilty findings and enter Probation Before Judgment in these cases. For a brief explanation, see my Probation Before Judgment post here.
2. CDS Possession of Marijuana: Upon a finding of guilt, I have seen a very wide range of sentences handed down in these cases. Usually the sentence bears some relationship to the amount of marijuana recovered. Sentences are usually heavier when facts of the case hint that the defendant was engaged in some kind of distribution activity. In general, I feel comfortable saying that most of the larger Maryland jurisdictions are not likely to send a first-time defendant straight to jail for this offense. Probation, very often supervised, is a fairly common penalty for possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana in Maryland. It’s worth mentioning here that, historically, and in a select few jurisdictions, sentences for this offense handed down in the Circuit Courts have been more lenient than those handed down in District Courts. Lately it appears that this sentencing gap may be narrowing, however. While short jail sentences are rare, they are not unheard of, particularly outside of Baltimore, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County. Again, first-time defendants need to be aware that even a light sentence may have a tremendous impact on their life and livelihood because the sentence comes along with a conviction for a crime. Maryland convictions cannot be expunged.
3. CDS Possession of Marijuana with the Intent to Distribute: This is a felony charge. The range of commonly given sentences is extremely difficult to describe as a whole. It should be mentioned here that Maryland does not use any precise metric for when to charge a defendant with this offense. There is no magic number of little bags or gross weight guidelines dictate when a felony will be charged. Small quantities of marijuana can result in felony charges if surrounding circumstances point to distribution. Upon a finding of guilt, sentences typically are more severe when there is more marijuana in the case. For first-time defendants with relatively small amounts of marijuana, the sentence may call for a lengthy period of supervised probation. With aggravating facts, it’s not unheard of for a first-time defendant to be sentenced to some jail time, particularly in outlying jurisdictions. A felony conviction on a defendant’s criminal record comes with major consequences at school and in the workplace.
Individual Marijuana Penalties Vary Based On Some Common Factors
As you consider this information, you should be aware that judges have the discretion to sentence a defendant to anything up to the statutory maximums as they see fit. In my experience, they typically base their sentences on some common factors. Prior to sentencing, the judge will consider the facts of the case that were established on the record, the defendant’s criminal record, the defendant’s biography, the prosecutor’s suggestions to the court, police suggestions to the court (sometimes), any mitigation provided by the defendant or defense counsel, and other factors. Probably most of these factors are outside of the control of the defendant once he has been charged. But some are not. That’s precisely why a defendant needs a lawyer’s help, even if he is planning to plead guilty.
If you are facing marijuana charges in Maryland and planning to enter a guilty plea, you should do anything that you can in order to get the best possible sentence for your case. It would be unwise to go to court with the attitude that your sentence has been predetermined. You may wish to read my post “11 Mistakes that Maryland District Court Defendants Make” and give some thought to how you will prepare for court.
Matthew Baum is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer with offices in Baltimore, Catonsville, and Columbia. He can be reached at (410) 929-3435. New client consultations are always confidential, private, and free of charge. If you or someone you care about has a pending marijuana case, you are invited to call the number above or to fill out the contact form at this website. Please do not include any specific facts about your case in your initial contact. Matthew Baum usually responds to inquiries within one business day.