Starting in January of each year the Maryland Legislature meets for about three months to debate and vote on hundreds of proposed laws. News stories chronicling the progress of these bills come out of Annapolis daily during the three-month session. But it's not until October that the work of the legislature actually begins to affect the people. Now that October is upon us all the new laws that we forgot about over the summer are in the news again, as the first of the month marks their effective date. This year there are a host of new laws that are relevant to the Blog. We'll start off with one that may seem like a big deal, but those who have been reading each of our posts won't be fooled by the headlines. As of tomorrow Maryland is officially a medical marijuana state. But as we have discussed numerous times in the past the medical marijuana program will not be functional until about 2016. Even when the program is functional it will hardly be accessible by anyone with legitimate medical need for the drug. The program will only be administered by a few select research hospitals so don't expect to see medical marijuana dispensaries popping up at your local shopping center or strip mall. The legislature will likely revisit the marijuana issue in the 2014 session though, and pot may actually be decriminalized before the medical use program even treats its first patient.
Maryland is notorious for having some of the toughest statewide handgun laws in the country, and come these restrictions will become even tougher starting this week. The Firearm Safety Act passed last year will now ban the sale of numerous semi-automatic handguns and rifles. Some of the guns included in the ban are the AK-47, AR-15, and the M1A. The act also decreases the legal bullet capacity of magazines for semi automatic guns from 20 to 10. These high capacity magazines are no longer permitted to be sold, manufactured, received, or transferred in the state, but the law does not specifically address possession. The handgun qualification license is perhaps the most controversial new law about to go into effect. This law requires anyone who wishes to purchase a firearm to attend a four-hour gun safety class and pass a background check, which includes submitting a fingerprint card to the state police. There will also be a limit of one firearm purchase per 30 days for those who happen to pass the background check. Marylanders have certainly taken notice of the new restrictions, as gun applications since the bill's passage have gone up exponentially. The state police has been receiving an estimated 1,000 new gun purchase applications per day over the last few months. The current wait for clearance to pick up a pre-purchased firearm is about four months. Other new gun laws include prohibiting the possession of ammunition for those that are not able to legally purchase and own a gun. A violation of this statute could result in a misdemeanor conviction.
Two new traffic laws will also go into effect this week. The first makes texting and driving a primary offense, which will give cops probable cause to conduct a traffic stop. The second law requires all vehicle occupants to wear seatbelts or the driver may face hefty fines. Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer, who handles all state and federal offenses. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.