Governor Elect Hogan is not scheduled to begin his term as Maryland's top politician for another 6 weeks, but he has already publicized a few of his plans for gun control and drug abuse. The infamous Maryland firearms safety act appears to be safe for the foreseeable future, as Hogan's camp is on record stating they would not take action to try to repeal the law. On the other hand, the act still faces scrutiny from the federal court system. The hardline gun law was upheld in the United States District Court in Baltimore over the summer, but is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The federal appellate judges will examine whether the firearms safety act infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and will consider the briefs of twenty-one different states, including Florida and Michigan, who have filed briefs urging the court to overturn the law. The Governor Elect has not publicized a detailed opinion of the firearms safety act, and will likely wait until he has taken office to do so. But Hogan has been clear thus far that his office will not challenge the incoming attorney general or the predominantly democratic legislature to repeal the law.
Hundreds of people are arrested or indicted on felony charges each day in Maryland. Theses cases almost never cause news headlines unless the facts of the case are particularly egregious, or if the defendant is some sort of public figure. Police officers, politicians, athletes, and other entertainers are all fair game for the media if they happen to stray on the wrong side of the law. We've become accustomed to it, and are hardly shocked by the headlines anymore. This is especially true when it comes to Baltimore City, where the last few years have seen dozens of police, corrections officers, and professional athletes charged with crimes. But recently, another type of public figure was charged with a crime, and you may find it hard to simply brush this one off. The Office of the State Prosecutor announced last week that a former public school principal has been indicted on multiple counts of felony theft, theft scheme, and embezzlement, which allegedly took place while she was employed at Western High School. The ex-principal is set to appear in the Baltimore City circuit court in mid January for her arraignment. If convicted she faces numerous years in prison, as well as fines, restitution payments, and reporting probation. The charges themselves are enough to make any parent, taxpayer, or anyone else for that matter cringe, but it gets much worse when you read that the victims of this theft scheme were the very students she was hired to look after.
After months of debate, and a fair amount of frustration the medical marijuana commission finally approved its draft regulations. A few deadlines were pushed back, and licensing fees may be higher than some investors had hoped, but in the end Maryland is on track to have a functioning medical marijuana program within the next year. Wait scratch that. Within the next two years. Maybe. See the program's draft regulations may be out of the committee's tight grasp, but now they still must be approved by the state health secretary, and a panel of lawmakers including state senators and delegates. Both the secretary and the lawmakers could propose modifications to the regulations, which of course would cause further delays. Only when these two parties finally approve the regulations can potential growers and dispensary owners begin to file their applications, and the real logjam may occur at this point.
Just months ago United State's Attorney's Office praised the work of law enforcement in ending a complex Washington D.C. heroin and cocaine trafficking ring. The investigation and subsequent prosecution led to 14 felony convictions, with most of the defendants ending up with prison sentences. But as of this week, only one defendant remains jailed, and the other 13 have been released from prison. Last week a federal judge threw their cases out upon recommendation by the very prosecutors who worked diligently to secure these convictions less than a year ago. The exact reasons for this dramatic sequence of events is unknown, but we do know that at least one corrupt FBI agent participated in the investigation. This particular agent, a 33-year old named Matthew Lowry, was found slumped over in his car with evidence bags containing heroin and firearms seized from the investigation. While this incident alone could create enough suspicion of wrongdoing to warrant new trials in the related cases, it's more likely that the prosecutors became aware of far greater corruption. Corruption that prompted immediate and unfettered action.
Back in the spring, the Maryland General Assembly placed a September 15th deadline on the medical marijuana commission to formulate the program's policy. While that deadline may have been slightly ambitious, the goal was undoubtedly to prevent the commission from procrastinating while patients were suffering, and grower and dispensary investors were becoming frustrated. It initially seemed that the commission was doing exactly what lawmakers wanted to avoid, as the only topics up for discussion at the first few meetings were about when the next meetings would take place. Unsurprisingly the original deadline came and went, but the commission insisted it would be ready with the regulations in late October. This past week we once again learned that the commission has asked for more time to finish the job, and now it seems like November 13th will be the day when final policy is proposed. While the first few delays were understandable, as the public had far more constructive criticism than expected, this last delay clearly falls on the commission, who totally neglected a major component of every functioning medical marijuana program.
There are few law enforcement agencies in the state that receive as much negative publicity as the Baltimore City Police. Each year there are dozens of complaints filed for excessive use of force or other alleged abuses of authority, and there is a constant stream of officers being suspended or placed on leave with pay while being investigated. Some of these complaints make the news, and some end up in court as lawsuits, but the majority of these cases never reach the public's eye. Fortunately though, police administration and the mayor's office do take notice of each of these complaints, and it appears they are both committed to doing something about it. The solution may lie in a technology that is known as body cameras. The idea is simple enough to understand; all on duty officers would be equipped with forward facing video recording devices affixed to their person. But the implementation is not so simple, as there are a host of issues that must be tackled before the program can become a reality.
Law enforcement officers make dozens of drug distribution busts each day in Maryland. State and local police handle most, as only a select few of these busts are carried out by federal law enforcement. Federal agencies such as the DEA could investigate and prosecute any would be drug offender under federal law, but they often defer to state level cops unless the case is large and involves multiple states. Even when these busts are juicy enough for the feds, the media rarely picks up on them, and most go unnoticed by the public. Therefore when the United States Attorney's Office issues a press release about a drug bust that is picked up by almost every local news agency, you know the facts must be particularly scandalous. This past week's Baltimore drug bust definitely fit the bill, as assistant US attorney Rosenstein announced indictments in a multi-state cocaine trafficking operation, which involved tons of drugs, millions of dollars, fancy cars, and money laundering. The investigation had everything the media could ask for in a story, and the bulk of the alleged criminal activity occurred right here in Baltimore.
Anne Arundel County Police have arrested two suspects in remarkably bizarre incident involving a stolen public school bus. The bus was reported stolen at about 5:30 in the morning on Tuesday, as school employees reported to the lot to begin their morning student pickup. Employees at the bus lot notified police and school officials as soon as they noticed the missing vehicle. The first concern for both was the safety of the children, as there was fear that the at large bus thieves could try to pick up and perhaps abduct school children. Parents were notified early in the morning and were told not to have their children wait for the bus. After parents were alerted and concerns over the children subsided, police turned their attention to searching for the missing bus. Not surprisingly, a helicopter spotted the stolen bright yellow school bus a few hours after the search commenced. The final resting point was an unpaved access road underneath electrical towers. Further investigation revealed that the bus was badly damaged and there was even evidence the suspects tried to light it on fire before fleeing the scene. Police used surveillance video and information from a witness to locate and apprehend the two suspects in the area where the bus was found. The video reportedly depicted a visibly intoxicated male and female breaking into bus at around 3:30 am and then driving it through the parking lot gate. While it is unclear how they started the bus, police did see evidence that multiple other buses were vandalized before the couple settled on one to take for their joy ride. The suspects are currently in jail and facing numerous criminal charges including theft, burglary, arson, and destruction of property. A preliminary hearing is set on November 5th in the district court in Annapolis.
Soon after the close of each year's legislative session the governor signs dozens of bills into law. The public typically hears about these new laws at the three main stages when the media can report a concrete story. First we read about a bill being introduced in the house or senate, which is usually in January. Then there's an article or two about the bill's passage by the General Assembly a couple months later, and finally we hear about the governor signing on the dotted line in the spring. After the governor signs the bills there is a yearly downtime that usually lasts about six months until the fall when the laws go into effect. In some years there is no buildup to the October 1st effective date because the new laws simply don't generate enough interest. This year is not one of those years. It's the criminal laws that often receive the most attention, and in 2014 there were a host of them that the public and media were following. No new law has received as much press as marijuana decriminalization, and although as times it seemed like a pipedream, as of today we can officially say it is not a crime to possess less than 10 grams of pot in Maryland.
Back in the spring when Maryland's revamped medical marijuana law passed the General Assembly it wasn't just the thousands of patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions that rejoiced. Hundreds of potential investors immediately began to salivate over potential profits from legalized pot here in Maryland. There are millions to be made on the business side of medical marijuana, and with twenty states already selling pot the profits are hardly speculative. At the first few meetings of the medical marijuana commission you couldn't find a parking spot or a seat, and the meeting room was filled to the brim with a mix of suit clad businessmen, dreadlocked hippies, and casually dressed visitors with unidentifiable motives. The meetings were moved from Baltimore to Annapolis to accommodate the larger crowds, but it seems there have been fewer potential investors in attendance as of late. Details about the application process have slowly trickled out to the public, and to some it may seem like an insurmountable task to submit a competitive application for a grower's license. And this past week another not so small detail emerged, which may have turned even more potential growers and distributors away.
As the Medical Marijuana Commission inches closer to establishing a viable program in Maryland, there are still numerous key details that need to be hammered out. The Commission was established soon after the governor signed the revised medical marijuana bill into law, and its fifteen members were tasked with drafting regulations for the program. These regulations were supposed to be handed over to the health secretary and a group of state lawmakers this week, but now it appears the commission will seek public comment before submitting the program regulations for formal review. The commission made the draft regulations available to the public by posting them on the DHMH website, and they have already received abundant feedback. The four page PDF, which can be found here, outlines the application process for obtaining a growers license in Maryland, and the criteria for which applications will be judged. Those reading the draft application for the first time may be surprised just how demanding the process will be, and the commission can afford to be selective considering there will be only fifteen licenses awarded in the next two years.
Heroin use throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area has been on the rise for the last few years, and now the national media has taken notice. A recent episode of National Geographic Channel's television series Drugs Inc., was filmed in Baltimore, and documented just how out of control the heroin epidemic has become in the city. The show dubbed Baltimore the heroin capital of America, and while there is no statistical evidence to support this dramatic claim, there is certainly enough evidence to prove at least the presence of an epidemic. The Blog has posted a few articles about the increasing popularity of heroin, which is attributed to a variety of factors including the low cost and a high supply of the dangerous drug. Stricter regulations on prescription narcotics have also been a major factor in the recent heroin boom, as it has become more expensive and more difficult for drug users to secure their once plentiful supply of oxycodone and other similar narcotics on the street. Doctors and pharmacies have become less inclined to prescribe and dispense these highly addictive painkillers, thus leading to a decline of legal and illegal sales. The television show touched on this fact and also credited increased education and awareness of prescription medication addiction as other factors for lower abuse rates. Less abuse of prescription narcotics may have come at a steep price though, and not only in Baltimore, but also in the surrounding suburbs.
Each summer since 1975 the Maryland State Police has issued a Uniform Crime Report for statewide crime over the past year. This year's UCR was released to the governor earlier this summer, and later published online and in press releases. The overall conclusion of the report was positive in the eyes of law enforcement, and the various headlines reflect this attitude. A simple Google news search of last years crime rate will yield articles about decreasing statewide crime or even record crime reductions. This is based on the fact that the overall crime rate for indexed crimes from 2012 to 2013 decreased by two percent. Violent crime went down about one percent and property crime lowered by about two percent. But these headlines are only part of the picture, and to get an idea of the rest it is important to analyze the actual numbers.
A few months ago we posted an article about a criminal defense attorney who was arrested for smuggling various illegal drugs into the Baltimore County Detention Center. The police investigative reports and charging documents described a multi month conspiracy between the attorney, her son, secretary, and her current and former clients to introduce the contraband into the jail for sale and use by other inmates. Security at the Towson facility is more relaxed for attorneys who present their clearance cards upon entry, as it is not standard for the guards to thoroughly frisk lawyers. Part of the reason for this is that most visits at the jail are non-contact visits, where the attorney still must speak to the inmate through a glass wall. Contact visits typically have to be arranged ahead of time. But unlike the standard visitation area, the attorney visitation area has slits under the glass partitions so that legal documents may be passed back and forth. Though in the case of this former attorney, it wasn't just legal documents that were being passed through the slits.
The Maryland Firearms Safety Act went into effect almost one year ago, and at that time most of the news stories were centered on record sales at state gun shops, which resulted in many of the popular handgun models being sold out at local stores. There were also numerous articles about overwhelming demand for the state police to complete background checks. Those who purchased firearms prior to the October 1st, 2013 effective date were not required to submit their fingerprints, but due to the shear number of applications were still forced to wait months for law enforcement clearance. There were a few scattered articles about those in opposition to the strict law, such as the NRA and other Second Amendment lobbyist groups. Each of these groups expressed a strong desire to challenge the law, but at the time it just didn't seem as if they would have any success. Marylanders were acting as if the strict statewide gun regulations were there to stay, and last summer's rush to buy firearms proved that. And now we can officially say that the Firearms Safety Act is in fact here to stay, as a federal judge recently upheld it as constitutional in a 47-page opinion.