This year’s legislative session is well under way in Annapolis, and all signs point to the conclusion that legalized pot is still a pipedream in Maryland. The state made national and even global headlines in November for officially sanctioning same sex marriage and has been called one of the most liberal in the country. But when it comes to drug enforcement, and marijuana in particular, Maryland is a far cry from liberal. In fact, our great state is stricter than most when it comes to drug crimes and possible sentences. Possession of over ten grams of the drug still carries a one year jail sentence, and cops around the state are arresting large numbers of simple possession defendants. There are multiple reasons for the grim outlook on possible recreational and medical marijuana legalization, but the biggest reason comes from the top of the political food chain. Governor O’Malley has repeatedly threatened to veto any legalization bill that crosses his desk, and has shown no signs of backing down from this stance.
Other concerns stem from concern amongst legislators that the federal government would step in and begin prosecuting any legal state marijuana operations. The drug is still years away from federal legalization and the Justice Department has shown no signs of change on the issue either. But according to supporters for legalization, concerns over the federal government meddling in the state’s medical marijuana policy is unfounded and lacks precedent. There are very few cases around the country where the federal government has made an effort to corral medical use operations, and there is no evidence that the federal government is going to interfere with Colorado and Washington’s recreational use laws. Lately, it seems the federal government excuse is becoming more popular with politicians across the country that are reluctant to take a stance on legalization.
At this point last year there was much optimism for a medical marijuana legalization bill to be passed, which could have laid a foundation for legal recreational use as well. But as this bill traveled through the legislative process it became so watered down that the eventual law was a shell of its former self. Medical marijuana is hardly legal, as last year’s bill merely lowered the sentence from jail time to a fine, and provided defendants with a legal defense to use in court. But, most pot possession cases do not result in significant jail time anyway, and the real concern for the majority of people is having a criminal conviction on their record. There are also serious issues with the so called legal defense provision of the bill because many judges are reluctant to consider a medical use defense. The defense is entirely subjective, and if a judge does not agree with it, he or she can simply find the defendant guilty and sentence him or her accordingly. There are still a few months left for law making in Annapolis, but at this point it doesn’t seem like marijuana legalization will be one of these laws.
Benjamin Herbst is a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases and all drug offenses. Contact Mr. Herbst at The Herbst Firm for a free consultation.
Marijuana legalization still unlikely, diamondbackonline.com