The bail review process in Maryland could be headed for some major changes as the current system is slated for review in the Court of Appeals on March 7th. Nearly eight years ago a group of detainees in the Baltimore City jail filed a class action lawsuit challenging the state's bail review process. Specifically they challenged the first appearance procedure where a recently arrested defendant goes before a court commissioner for a bail review. Under the current state law no detainee is entitled to an attorney at this first appearance, and the commissioner is free to make whatever determination he or she decides. Court commissioners are not judges or lawyers, and no legal experience is required for the job. The ones who typically suffer are poor, non violent offenders who can be forced to sit in custody for days or even weeks on bails as low as a few hundred dollars. But it's not only the poor who suffer, as some commissioners have the tendency to impose egregiously high bail amounts for cases without putting forth the effort to completely examine the circumstances of the case. The issue scheduled for debate is whether having an attorney present at the commissioner bail reviews would prevent unjust and unnecessary pre-trial detention, and if the cost to provide lawyers at these hearings is worth the potential benefit.
Recently in Maryland Legislature Category
It seems that sparks fly and countless news headlines appear each time the marijuana debate hits the floors of the state legislature. This past week was no different, as a spirited discussion drew unprecedented crowds, which spilled into the hallways of the Maryland State House. The issue of changing the state's archaic and costly pot laws has been the same for the past couple of years, but new and unpredictable drama arises each time this topic is up for discussion. On Tuesday in Annapolis, state lawmakers were joined by cops, college students, parents, and professionals, and each had strong opinions on the subject. Some of these opinions were based on personal experience, such as the parent who testified that her son's career opportunities had been damaged by a prior arrest possession of about ten grams of marijuana. There was also a college student who described the embarrassing and degrading experience of being arrested, strip searched, and jailed for pot possession.
The state Senate recently passed a bill that would ban the sale of grain alcohol throughout Maryland. The bill passed by a wide margin, 37 to 10 to be exact, and now awaits a vote in the House of Delegates before reaching the governor's desk. This same bill passed the Senate each of the last two legislative sessions, but failed to gain momentum, and ultimately stalled in the House. This year may be different though, as the chairman of a House subcommittee on alcoholic beverages has publicly backed the bill and will no doubt try to convince his colleagues of the bill's merit. The main goal of the grain alcohol ban is to lower the risk of binge drinking fatalities, injuries, and legal incidents such as DUI and even date rape on college campuses where grain alcohol is popular. The product is most commonly sold under the label of Everclear, which is 190 proof or 95 percent alcohol. It is commonly mixed with fruit juice or other mixers and placed in a large cooler for consumption. The argument from supporters of the ban is that college students have no idea how much alcohol there are consuming, and often drink more than they intend. Whether the grain alcohol itself is to blame is a question that is subject to much debate.
The legislative session has been underway for more than a month, and few fireworks have come out of Annapolis. Occasionally a story pops up about a group standing in opposition of Maryland's strict gun laws. This past month we have seen a proposal to repeal a pro-slavery law from the 1800's. There have also been the somewhat odd headlines such as the five-cent chicken tax proposed by the General Assembly, and Delegate Dwyer's ridiculous proposal that all active lawmakers be subject to a minimum mandatory jail sentence upon receiving a DUI conviction. But just like last year, the real stories coming out of our state's capital have to do with marijuana legislation. The Blog didn't set out to exclusively cover the progress of pot laws in Maryland, and we are by no means an exclusive marijuana blog. In fact we would love to spread the articles across various criminal law topics such as DUI, gun control, and police corruption. But marijuana politics simply cannot be ignored, and this week is no different. While our readers fully are aware of democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur stance on the issue (for those who have not read our most recent post) two more prominent political figures have come out in support of changing our marijuana laws, and changing them now.
A few months back we posted an article about a Maryland gubernatorial candidate who came out in support of marijuana legalization. Heather Mizeur, who is currently serving as a delegate in the state legislature, made numerous headlines with her public stance on legalized pot. Now the democrat from Montgomery County is in the news again for powerful opinions on the criminal justice system. Mizeur recently released a detailed plan, which calls for modifications to sentencing guidelines and incarceration terms of adult and juvenile criminal defendants. The plan questions the effectiveness of Maryland's so called tough on crime policies that have resulted in thousands of prison sentences for non-violent offenders. Mizeur refers to her plan as taking a holistic and transformational approach to the criminal justice system. In other words, she believes that rehabilitation and crime prevention, and not punishment, should be the main function of the criminal justice system. This approach is commonplace in many liberal states across the country, but the current administration, including O'Malley and Brown, do not share the same sentiments on crime and punishment.
It certainly did not take long for the first marijuana focused headlines to come out of Annapolis. The legislature has only been in session for a couple of weeks, and there are already two prospective pot laws generating chatter among state law makers. The first being a proposal to legalize, tax and regulate the drug similar to what Colorado and Washington state have already done. A democratic state senator from Montgomery County and a democratic delegate from Baltimore City have co-sponsored the proposal. The proposed law is entitled The Marijuana Control Act of 2014, and one of its main goals is to take money out of the hands of gangs and drug dealers and channel this revenue into public causes. Tax money from the legal sale of marijuana would be earmarked for school construction, drug education, and drug and alcohol treatment programs. In its current form the Marijuana Control Act would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of pot for their own personal use, and also allow growing up to six plants within the home. Smoking in public would still be illegal, as would driving under the influence, and unauthorized sale or distribution.
The 2014 Maryland Legislature is officially open for business, and day one provided a few headlines worth discussing. The most notable being governor O'Malley's comments in opposition of marijuana legalization. O'Malley was quoted as saying he is "not much in favor of it", and that it could be "a gateway to even more harmful behavior". The democratic governor spoke about the damaging consequences of drug addiction, particularly in Baltimore, where he was once mayor. The issue of legalized pot is especially relevant this week in light of Colorado recently allowing the first retail purchasing of marijuana in almost 80 years. It appears from the governor's comments that Maryland is not headed in the same direction, at least not this year. But some lawmakers, such as the state senate's president, firmly believe that legalization will eventually become realty in our state. Decriminalization, which still makes pot possession illegal but not a jailable offense, may be in the cards much sooner. A decriminalization law would likely subject offenders to civil fines and possible drug treatment, but would take incarceration off the table. This approach has already gained support from the state senate, and could potentially garner increased support form the house this year. The governor has not offered his opinion on decriminalization specifically. The official word from O'Malley's office is that he would consider such a bill if it passes the general assembly. In addition, the governor did affirmatively state he would consider modifications to the state medical marijuana program, which is light-years away from becoming functional.
A completely objective means to measure one state's gun laws against another simply does not exist. There is no cut and dry way to compare laws that are worded differently, and more importantly enforced differently. But academic institutions and lobbyist groups nonetheless love to take the abstract and put it into a study or a survey that appears to show concrete conclusions. While it's not science, these studies do serve the purpose of generating conversation. Organizations perform the work, issue press releases, and then the news outlets report to the public. And sometimes, if the issue is relevant, a lowly legal blog will continue the discussion. The discussion to be had revolves around the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, and its ranking of state gun laws for 2013. The Brady Campaign is the self-proclaimed largest anti gun violence grassroots organization in the country. The organization has been around since the 1970's but took the Brady name in 2001 with the mission of reforming the gun industry through legislative influence. The 2013 rankings slot Maryland as having the fourth toughest gun laws, only behind California, Connecticut, and New Jersey. The study incorporates a points system based on numerous categories, and even gives out academic letter grades; Maryland merely received an A- and no state received an outright A.
The Blog posted numerous articles on the progress of marijuana legislation during this past legislative session. There were progressive ideas thrown around in the Senate and the House, but neither legalization nor decriminalization bills passed the General Assembly. The only bill to cross the governor's desk last spring was the complex medical marijuana law that will not be functional for a few years, if ever. The Medical Marijuana Commission, which was established by lawmakers to oversee the program, has met three times to hammer out the details of how to get legal pot to patients in need. But little progress has been made and no resolution is in sight. At this point there are simply too many hurdles to get the program off and running. Readers will recall that the medical marijuana law only authorizes academic medical facilities or hospitals to run the program, but the two largest of these facilities, Hopkins and University of Maryland, want no part of it. There is also an issue with how the hospitals that choose to participate would get their supply of pot. The law allows the hospitals to buy from the federal government, which would be great if the federal government was selling. And they're not. State licensed pot growers would also be allowed to sell to the hospitals, but at this point there are none. It's clear that a Maryland resident will not be able to acquire legal pot anytime in the near future; that is unless a more progressive law passes the General Assembly next year. One politician with aspirations to be the next governor has recently publicized her desire for this to happen.
There is still a great deal of confusion regarding our state marijuana laws, and rightly so. Maryland is one of a few states that have not taken a hardline stance one way or the other on the topic. Maybe it's because we have a governor with national political aspirations who doesn't want to show his hand this early in the game. Or maybe the onus falls on the lawmakers in Annapolis who just cannot seem to agree about the direction our laws are headed. We take calls all the time from prospective clients and those who just want to gain an understanding of the current drug statutes. Hopefully this post will paint a clearer picture of the confusing work our elected officials have done in the past few years.
If there were one word to describe the current state of Maryland marijuana policy it would be scatterbrain. Each year during the legislative sessions we see bill proposals ranging from complete legalization to decriminalization, and each year it seems nothing is done. And over the course of his term our governor has spoken frequently on the topic, but at the same time has said next to nothing. The laws reflect this sort of indecision. The way we see it, a government can take four basic stances on the personal use of marijuana; you can have complete criminalization, decriminalization, legalization for medical use, and complete legalization. With respect to our state you can throw out complete criminalization and complete legalization. It is definitely not legal to spark up a joint at a local bar or in the privacy of your own home. But it may not be criminal to spark one up in your house. Somehow Maryland has managed to fall somewhere in between having legal medical marijuana and decriminalization without having fully effective laws for either. We'll address and explain the laws for both medical use and decriminalization in two separate paragraphs as to not add to the confusion.
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.
Around this time last year there was much talk about marijuana legislation in Maryland. The possession of less than 10 grams law was about to go into effect, and state lawmakers were preparing proposals for pot decriminalization. The talk is quieter this year though, despite the fact that the state's medical marijuana law is set to go into effect in October. The reason for the lack of buzz is likely due to the fact that the medical use program will not actually begin functioning until 2016. The law becoming effective will do little to help patients who want the drug now. But, a recent stance reversal by a prominent medical expert has the topic in the news this week. CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has reversed his public stance to now favor the implementation of legal medical marijuana programs throughout the country. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Dr. Gupta is currently working on a documentary entitled "Weed", and has traveled the world to meet with the foremost experts on the subject.
There was no celebratory grand opening, no balloons or customers lining up on the sidewalk. But there were also no police officers waiting to make arrests as customers walked out of Washington's first operational medical marijuana dispensary with product in hand. Fifteen years after D.C. passed a referendum by an overwhelming majority to legalize pot for medical use, the program is finally off and running. Capital Care, first dispensary to participate in the program, is located just a mile from the United States Capital building where federal lawmakers spent the last decade and a half attempting to block this day from becoming a reality. The dispensary is also located steps away from the ATF headquarters, and other federal law enforcement agencies that are still empowered by federal laws, which have no mention of legalized pot for any purpose. Thus D.C. has become the latest jurisdiction to step into the common dilemma of local versus federal law with respect to marijuana legalization.
The state's highest court recently ruled on a lawsuit involving dram shop laws, an issue that has been hotly debated for the last few decades. In essence, dram shop laws refer to the liability of bars and restaurants for the actions of their patrons. A state with dram shop laws provides a third party with a legal right to sue a bar or restaurant, which has continued to serve a patron that is visibly drunk, if the patron causes some sort of injury to the third party. Dram shop is simply a traditional term for any establishment that sells alcohol. These laws typically apply to DUI accidents involving serious injury or death. Currently there are 43 states with some sort of dram shop statute, but both the Maryland Legislature and the Courts have not been inclined to follow the majority on this issue, with neighboring Virginia and Delaware sharing the same view. Numerous bills have been proposed over the years, but none has ended up on the governor's desk for a signature, and the state's highest court has never upheld a civil action against a bar or tavern for an act of a patron that occurred outside the establishment.
Maryland is widely known as having some of the strictest gun laws in the entire country. Few states have provisions that even come close to the highly controversial law, which requires citizens to prove a good and substantial reason to possess a carry permit. Maryland also requires mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, regardless of whether the seller is a licensed dealer or a private party. There is also a mandatory seven-day waiting period in order to buy a gun. And now after the close of this years legislative session in Annapolis, the strict are bound get stricter after The General Assembly passed new firearms regulations. The bill, which has generated national attention, is awaiting Governor O'Malley's signature before it becomes law. All prior indications from the Governor's office have signaled that signing on the dotted line is a foregone conclusion. The new law will have a sweeping impact on all aspects of firearms regulation including purchasing, possessing, and selling.