The Maryland Legislature recently passed a bill that will lower the maximum penalty for possession of marijuana from 1 year in jail to 90 days in jail. Maximum fines for marijuana possession will also drop from $1000 to $500. The bill was signed into law by Governor O'Malley and will go into effect in October of 2012. The Maryland marijuana bill only applies to simple possession of less than 10 grams of the plant, a compromise between the two legislative chambers. The Maryland Senate wanted the new bill to apply to possession of any amount less than 14 grams of marijuana, or one half ounce, but the Maryland House wanted reduced punishments only for less than 7 grams, or one quarter ounce of marijuana. The Maryland law makers eventually agreed on the 10 gram limit, and the bill easily passed both chambers by a vote of 41-5 in the Senate, and 92-31 in the House.
Maryland law makers have recently been focused on streamlining the judicial system, and the marijuana bill appears to be a small step in that direction. According to the FBI, Maryland police officers made nearly 24,000 marijuana arrests in 2010. Many of the resulting criminal marijuana cases can linger for months in Maryland circuit courts, because defendants who face more than 90 days in jail are entitled to a circuit court jury trial. Only a fraction of these circuit court cases are actually tried in front of a jury. Criminal defense lawyers, and the defendants themselves are aware that these cases often end up being dismissed or reduced after months of stagnation in circuit court. The theory that good things happen to those that wait out their criminal cases is often true for defendants, but the judicial system ends up bearing the burden, and has become increasingly and unnecessarily bogged down.