Marijuana legalization debates continue to ramp up on the floor of the state legislature, and the latest bill to be introduced is by far the most progressive to date. We previously posted an article about the introduction of Maryland Senate Bill 297, which dealt with the decriminalization of the popular drug. The most recent bill though takes Senator Zirkin's proposal one step further, and calls for outright legalization of marijuana for recreational use. The new bill is nearly identical to the laws that were recently passed in Colorado and Washington. If passed into law, it would allow citizens over the age of 21 to possess one ounce or less of marijuana, and additionally to grow up to three plants in their homes. The current state law makes it illegal for anyone to possess even a residue amount of the plant, and violators face up to 90 days in jail for having 10 grams or less, and up to a year for possessing more than 10 grams.
February 2013 Archives
Back in June the Blog posted an article about a man who was arrested for his 8th DUI, and now a sentence has finally been handed down in this unprecedented case. The defendant had three open Wicomico County drunk driving cases this year alone. Two of those cases were disposed of by way of guilty pleas back in October of this year. The man received a two-year jail sentence for the first case on the 19th of October, and he received three years for a separate case just one week later. Last week in Salisbury, a Circuit Court judge handed down the final sentence of an additional three years, bringing the total amount of jail time to eight years, one for each conviction. The most recent case was certainly the most egregious of the three, as the intoxicated man apparently slammed straight into a stopped car at a red light intersection. To make matters worse, the defendant was also driving without his required engine interlock device, which does not allow the car to be started without an alcohol free breath sample
The jail sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, meaning that the man will have to finish serving time on each individual case before he can receive credit for time served in the others. The judge could have imposed the three-year sentence to run concurrently, but then the defendant would not have to serve any additional time. After completing the eight years, which includes four with the Department of Corrections, the man will have one year of probation with an extra year hanging over his head in case of a violation.
We discussed in the last blog entry that state lawmakers were planning to introduce new legislation on medical and synthetic marijuana. These bills are still in the works, but the big news coming out of the state house is that a brand new marijuana decriminalization bill is scheduled for a debate today in Annapolis. Maryland Senate Bill 297, proposed by state senator Zirkin, would effectively reduce the punishment for simple possession of marijuana from a maximum 90 days in jail to a maximum $100 fine. In addition simple possession, which is defined as less than 10 grams of the drug, would no longer be part of the state criminal code. Much like a parking ticket, violators of the proposed law would only be subject to a civil fine and would not be at risk of jail time or a criminal conviction. The hearing was scheduled for debate this afternoon, and promises to feature spirited testimony from a variety of politicians, former law enforcement officers, and even economists.
As we approach the midway point in this year's legislative session in Annapolis, it should come as no surprise that marijuana is trending heavily on the floor. Representative Glenn of Baltimore planned to introduce the Maryland Medical Marijuana Act to the House Judiciary Committee. This is the same bill that lost steam during the legislative gauntlet last winter. The bill would allow the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish centers for marijuana distribution for patients with a medical necessity for the drug, provided they are under the continuous care of a doctor. Ms. Glenn is quoted as saying that "people are suffering everyday in the state of Maryland, and they are being subjected to going out on the streets for the relief we should be providing." In addition to suffering unnecessary pain and anguish, medical marijuana users also face arrest and prosecution from State's Attorneys and Judges who naively believe marijuana is a dangerous drug with no legitimate benefits. This type of archaic thinking is especially present in the more rural areas of the state, and in stricter jurisdictions such as Harford County and Worchester County.
Police departments around the country are planning to ramp up their DUI detection and suppression efforts for the big game this weekend. Cops will deploy more road patrol officers than normal, and set up numerous checkpoints around the country this coming Sunday. These patrols and checkpoints will focus on popular nightlife areas and suburban neighborhoods where millions will be hosting or attending parties. Baltimore will likely see a large police presence in the downtown area, as thousands of Ravens fans will be out watching and celebrating the hometown team. The best piece of advice for any party goer who plans on drinking is to walk, take public transportation, or cab it. But, as most Marylanders are aware the state's public transportation system and taxi cab network is hardly to most accessible, so driving is usually the only option. Get a designated driver, and try to find one that'll be able to resist the temptation to drink when the Ravens are playing well, playing poorly, or doing both from one play to the next.
Police departments tend to send out press releases about increased DUI patrols because their publicly stated goal is to prevent drunk driving. But for the road patrol officers out on the street who aren't able to watch the game, their goal is to make arrests. Many false or illegal DUI arrests occur on holidays or during large events when cops are on high alert. You can be sure that police will be quick to arrest after a traffic stop or at a checkpoint throughout the day and night on Sunday at the first hint of alcohol. Simply having a few drinks and then driving is not illegal. For police to make and arrest, a driver must either have a blood alcohol level of at least .08 or display to the stopping officer that they are intoxicated or under the influence to the extent that their faculties are impaired. It is not illegal to smell like beer and get behind the wheel, so it is important to know your rights if you happen to be pulled over.