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potgrow1-300x225Medical marijuana growers throughout Maryland are putting the finishing touches on their multi million-dollar greenhouses, and after 4 years of waiting some are prepared to start planting or processing powerful strands of pot within a matter of weeks. But enthusiasm within the walls of the 23 state licensed grow and processing facilities is somewhat tempered as numerous impediments to commencing operations remain. The latest impediment comes in the form of an emergency motion filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which requests a judge to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the state cannabis commission from issuing final grow licenses. One of the companies that did not receive a preliminary grow license filed the motion on the grounds that the commission ignored a portion of the law that requires actively seeking racial and ethnic diversity throughout the licensing process. Lawyers learned of this omission during ongoing depositions as part of the discovery process of pending litigation against the state. This request for a temporary restraining order comes on the heels of the governor issuing an executive order requesting a study whether minority companies face disadvantages in the medical marijuana industry. In addition, it still remains a possibility that lawmakers may be recalled to Annapolis for a special legislative session to address racial diversity concerns with respect to the 15 awarded grow licenses.

As if the restraining order motion and the governor’s inquiry into the fairness of the process weren’t enough, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is now under fire for possibly circumventing public contract bidding regulations. State officials with the Office of Legislative Audits have been critical of how the commission awarded the contract to evaluate grower and distributor licenses to an economic studies group at Towson University. It turns out that Towson charged 60 percent more per application that had originally been budgeted for, and the price to review the 512 applications came to a whopping $2.6 million. Auditors clearly believe that the commission spent too much of the state’s money, and it probably did. However at the time the commission was severely inexperienced and underfunded, and ill equipped to handle hundreds more applications than expected. There was understandably tons of pressure to get the straggling medical marijuana program off the ground, and the commission likely made a decision to have the applications reviewed by a competent institution as quickly as possible.

Towson has yet to receive payment on the $2.6 million bill but they are expecting the state to pick up the entire tab. The bottom line is that the university did the work and whatever excess costs were incurred should really be attributed to lawmakers. The process to evaluate and rank the applications was extremely complicated, and placing an arbitrary limit of 15 licenses was short sighted and illogical. In addition, the commission was not afforded adequate resources to do its job, as commissioners were volunteers from the state who did not receive specialized training. Taxpayers would have been better served by a commission made up of a paid, full-time staff with experience implementing one of the many medical marijuana programs in the country.

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car-1579259_1280-300x201The Maryland State Police Trooper who drove up to a gathering of 50 people in the middle of a Baltimore County road last Sunday afternoon must have been caught off guard at first. However the trooper’s confusion likely wore off within seconds after realizing the crowd was actually observing the start of an illegal street race. The crowd quickly dispersed upon noticing the police presence and one the two cars involved in the aborted race fled the scene and was never caught. The other car though was not able to elude the officer, and its driver, a 26-year old man from Harford County, was arrested and charged with numerous offenses.

While street racing is illegal in Maryland it is not a jailable offense unless it results in serious bodily injury to another person. Rather racing, or even participating in the race as a timekeeper or flagman, is a payable traffic citation that carries a $290 fine and the possibility of 5 points upon conviction. The troopers that encountered the young man who was allegedly about to race his Corvette down Kelso drive could not make an arrest based on the state traffic laws.  Instead they slapped disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace charges on him and took him away in cuffs. Disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace are basically the same crimes under state law, and carry a maximum jail sentence of 60 days. The problem with these crimes is how subjective they are, and that they can include almost any type of behavior. Police officers have far too much discretion and as a result many defendants (and perhaps this defendant) are wrongfully charged.

Officers could have written traffic and criminal citations on scene and released the man, but obviously did not feel this was appropriate. He was booked and later released on his own recognizance, and in addition to being summoned for court now has deal with the embarrassment of seeing his booking photo appear on all the news websites. Although the alleged crime took place just steps away from the Baltimore County District Court in Essex, it appears that the defendant will answer for his charges in Towson sometime this summer.  It is also worth noting that there is a state police station on that same block, and the rest of the street is mostly commercial and industrial properties that are closed on weekends.

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adult-1866883_1280-300x225A Maryland man with an active felony warrant was recently arrested in Delaware after he parked next to a police officer with an open container of alcohol in his car. Just after 1 p.m. on an otherwise normal Friday afternoon a Rehoboth Beach police officer was writing a parking ticket when he observed the 29-year old man from Laurel pull up next to him. The officer would have paid little attention to the man, but for the two containers of alcohol that were immediately visible inside the car. After spotting the booze the Delaware cop had no choice but to investigate further, and when he did, he noticed the odor of an alcoholic beverage and other signs of impairment. While roadside sobriety exercises proved too difficult to administer due to a language barrier, the officer did feel he had enough evidence to arrest the man. A blood alcohol test confirmed the officer’s suspicions and the man was booked for drunk driving.

Upon confirming the man’s identity, Rehoboth PD then realized their drunken defendant had an outstanding felony warrant out of Wicomico County. The warrant was issued by the District Court in Salisbury back in January of 2016 and included one charge of felony third degree burglary. Other charges on the warrant included multiple counts of assault, malicious destruction of property and misdemeanor burglary in the fourth degree. The Laurel man also had a warrant for failing to appear in court for a jailable traffic citation resulting from driving without a valid license. Before he can answer for the charges in Maryland the defendant must first be transferred to the Wicomico County detention center. As of now he’s being held in the Sussex Correctional Institution in Delaware pending extradition.

This case is hardly the crime story of the year, but it is of interest to the Blog as we head into the summer months where thousands will flock to the beaches of Maryland and Delaware. In this particular case the defendant made it easy on the cop, but police officers will be focused on open container violations as the tourist season ramps up. This is especially true in Ocean City, where possession of an open container of alcohol actually carries the possibility of jail time. The Ocean City police force increases in size by dozens of officers during the summer months, and these new cops are often hungry to make their mark. Open container, minor in possession of alcohol, fake ID and disorderly conduct cases are some of the most common crimes during in June, July and August. Visiting the coast during the summer months can be a great time, but unfortunately hundreds of summer beachgoers are forced to come back to a Worcester County courtroom in the Fall to answer for a criminal citation or summons. Walking down coastal highway with a beer or refreshing cocktail may seem harmless but it’s illegal and not something that is overlooked by police officers. The OC PD will write hundreds of alcohol and marijuana citations this summer so be aware and make sure it isn’t your name on one of them.

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police-224426__180State regulators recently did away with an archaic restriction that cost hundreds of otherwise qualified applicants the opportunity to become Maryland law enforcement officers. In a landslide 16 to 1 vote the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission eliminated the unreasonable restriction, which previously prevented anyone who had smoked pot more than 20 times in their life, or more than 5 times since turning 21, from becoming a sworn police officer. The plea to ease the 40-year old restriction originally came from the Baltimore Police commissioner, who had witnessed an unprecedented exodus of city cops in the wake of the 2015 civil unrest and resulting disdain toward law enforcement. The commissioner has maintained that prior marijuana use has consistently been the main disqualifier of new applicants to the force, with 30 applications already being tossed aside in the first few months of 2017 over prior pot use.

The modified rule still places a restriction on past marijuana use, but it is a far more reasonable one. Rather than place an arbitrary number on the amount of times a person has smoked, the commission chose to impose simple mandatory three-year clean period. The Office of the Attorney General has already reviewed the modified regulation and starting June 1st only applicants that have used marijuana in the last three years will be barred by the state from becoming law enforcement officers. Individual police departments are free to choose to impose tougher restrictions if they choose, but in light of changing pot policy around the state and country it is unlikely that many will exercise this right. One thing we know for sure is that the state’s largest police department in Baltimore will not pursue tougher restrictions.

Despite the apparent show of flexibility by the police training and standards commission, the idea that prior casual pot smoking would bar someone from future employment is still asinine. It’s one thing if a department issues a drug test and the applicant fails, as the recreation use of marijuana is still illegal. But a three-year bar seems like pandering to the dwindling but still present establishment that cannot get over the illogical stigma attached to marijuana. Most of these establishment types reside in law enforcement or in the military, and are often those who drink two beers or whiskeys a day without giving it a thought. Alcohol is completely accepted if not promoted in the law enforcement and military culture despite the negative impact it has on thousands of individuals and their families each year. On the other hand the casual use of marijuana can cost a soldier, cop or federal agent his or her career. We are not in a place yet where marijuana is accepted on the same level as beer or liquor, but at least the new police regulations are a step in the right direction.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabAnne Arundel County police officers recently executed a search warrant of an Annapolis home and recovered a massive stash of controlled substances. The stash was large in both volume and in variety, as police seized over 11 pounds of high quality marijuana as well as a large quantity of cocaine. Cops also discovered smaller but still significant amounts of LSD, ketamine, heroin and hash oil. Two men were arrested as a result of the search and seizure, which took place at around 3 in the afternoon. Charging documents allege that one of the men jumped out of a second story window and attempted to flee upon becoming aware of the police activity. This man, who lives in nearby Severna Park, allegedly threw a vial of ketamine into a neighbors yard before surrendering to law enforcement. The other defendant who lived at the house surrendered more quietly after opening the door for police. Both men are in their mid twenties and are now facing charges in the District Court for Anne Arundel County in Annapolis.

Although the two men were arrested together their current legal situations are much different. The 25-year old Severna Park man was released from custody and faces two misdemeanor drug possession charges, while the 23-year old remains in custody, and is facing a slew of felony charges. Some of these charges carry potential mandatory jail sentences that may come into play as the case moves to the Circuit Court. The felony charges consist of four counts of CDS possession with intent to distribute for each of the different types of drugs that were recovered. This includes one charge for possession with intent to distribute narcotics that is related to the cocaine, one count of possession with intent for the LSD, one for the marijuana and one for the ketamine.

The 23-year old defendant is also facing two counts of CDS possession large amount, which is a provision related to the drug kingpin laws that are aimed at deterring high-level drug trafficking. Under this statute the defendant is facing the possibility two five-year mandatory sentences for the cocaine and LSD that was recovered. The amount of cocaine required to trigger this charge is 448 grams and the police allegedly recovered 526 grams, and one thousand or more doses of LSD qualifies as a large amount under Maryland law and the police allegedly seized 1,800 doses. There was far more marijuana allegedly recovered in the Annapolis home that anything else, but the 11 pounds were way short of the 50-pound threshold for a CDS possession large amount pot charge.

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weed4-300x194Lawmakers celebrated the end of the state’s annual legislative session with balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling, but despite hundreds of passed bills not all elected officials left Annapolis feeling a sense of accomplishment. There were a few criminal law bills that passed the General Assembly including a measure that will classify human trafficking involving a minor as a sex offense, which will require a defendant to register upon conviction. In addition, lawmakers passed several bills taking aim at the heroin epidemic, a battle that the governor has greatly emphasized. But as has been the case for the last five years, marijuana once again dominated the criminal law headlines, and arguably stole the show for the entire legislative session. The irony in all of this is that medical marijuana is already state law, and has been for a few years now. Despite the lack of groundbreaking news on the topic it just keeps sparking intense debate, and this year the debate may continue even after the official end of the 2017 session.

Several lawmakers have called for a special legislative session to take place in the next few weeks to shore up contentious issues that could further delay the launch of Maryland’s medical cannabis program. Although registration for the program has already opened, with some 1,200 patients registering last week and more than 250 doctors signing on, medical cannabis is unlikely to be available by the September target date. There remain two disgruntled growers with pending litigation against the state after their applications were approved and then curiously dropped by the committee. In addition, democratic lawmakers are still pushing hard for the state to add five more licensed growers to the list of fifteen, which would include those with minority ownership. These House lawmakers tried until midnight on the last day of the session to convince their colleagues in the Senate to add more growers, and some even agreed to license the two growers that are suing, but time ran out before an agreement was reached.

Despite zeros on the clock, some lawmakers feel they still have a shot to increase the number of growers by calling a special legislative session. A special session may be called by the governor or a majority of lawmakers, and would likely last just one day. But before a special session could take place there would likely have to be some sort of agreement on whether to include the two disgruntled growers in the additional licenses. Right now though the House Speaker does not believe the legislature should take measures to help two specific private companies, and in direct contrast the Senate President believes that helping these two companies is crucial to launching the medical marijuana program within a reasonable amount of time. As the Blog has stated in prior posts, a simple way to avoid the contentious debate and imminent delay would be to eliminate the cap on the number of grower licenses. All qualified applicants should be allowed to profit off of the medical cannabis program, and the increased tax revenue and licensing fees would afford the state the additional resources to regulate all of the growers. There is no logical reason for an arbitrary cap, but as we all know there is little logic in politics.

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firearm-409000__480-200x300A Prince George’s County man was recently sentenced to just over ten years in prison followed by three years of probation for robbing a fast food restaurant in Hyattsville. The sentencing occurred last week at the United States District Court of Maryland in Greenbelt after the man pled guilty back in December. According to facts stated in the plea agreement the defendant, who was once an employee at the restaurant, entered wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a mask of the popular Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man. Upon entering the restaurant the masked robber brandished a revolver type handgun at one of the store employees and demanded access to the safe. After realizing the employee did not have access to the safe the robber could have fled the scene, but instead hid behind a wall and waited for the manager to return. The defendant later used his gun to corral the manager and other employees into the manager’s office, where he stole cash from the safe and then from a register on his way out. Before leaving the restaurant the defendant also sprayed and lit lighter fluid on the wall and floor, and fired multiple rounds from his revolver that struck the building. Prince George’s County Police were alerted to the scene during the robbery and located the defendant as he was attempting to flee in his vehicle. Rather than surrender, the masked robber led cops on a high speed chase. The chase did not last long, as the defendant eventually stopped his vehicle and was taken into custody without any further violence. Police ultimately recovered and entered into evidence over $2,000 cash and a revolver with three live rounds and three spent cartridges.

The defendant was charged with numerous offenses, but ultimately pled guilty to robbery and using, brandishing and discharging a firearm. The plea agreement called for a sentence of between 121 months and 14 years prison under the federal guidelines, and the judge ended up going with the lower end. While this case certainly had some terrible facts, the defense probably provided mitigation to offer to the judge on sentencing. It does not appear that the defendant has a prior criminal record in Maryland, and there may have been some mental health issues involved with the case, as the defendant apparently decided to rob the restaurant because he was upset over being fired.

The robbery actually occurred on Christmas Eve of 2014, which is a relatively long period of time for a case of this magnitude. There are several reasons why a case that seems open and shut could last over two years. Cases where the defendant has or is suspected to have a mental health disorder often taken longer to settle due to the need for professional evaluations and treatment prior to plea or trial. Despite an arrest by county officers, this particular case did not appear to originate in state court before the feds took over. Some cases, especially cases involving robbery and firearm use, are filed in state court and then later dismissed and refiled in federal court. This process can cause delays, although a 2+ year gap between arrest and sentencing is still high.

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handgun-231699_640-300x169Marijuana grabbed many of the criminal law headlines over the last few state legislative sessions, but this year it has taken a back seat to other pressing issues such as prescription narcotics, heroin and firearms. We recently posted about proposed bills targeting heroin dealers and there has been heated debate about potential laws designed to limit the amount of prescription pain killers a patient may receive. While the fate of these bills remains to be seen, there are also multiple guns bills that have recently appeared on the House and Senate floors in Annapolis.

The first bill is an attempt to alter a strict state law prohibiting the possession of firearms on public college campuses. As it stands now any person arrested for possessing a handgun at a state university or public school faces a felony charge with a 3-year maximum jail sentence. Possession of a knife or other deadly weapon on school property is a misdemeanor, albeit with the same maximum punishment. The new bill would alter the statute by eliminating the possibility of a felony charge for a person caught possessing a handgun on a college campus. Rather, this offense would become a civil infraction only punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 come this October year if the bill passes. The changes would not apply to gun possession at a public elementary, middle or high school.

A civil citation for possession of a handgun on a public college campus would be handled in the same manner as a citation for offenses such as possession of alcohol by a minor, or using a fake ID. The defendant would be summoned to appear in court, and failure to appear could result in the issuance of a warrant. Failure to pay any fine imposed could result in the defendant being held in criminal contempt of court. Despite these possible sanctions, which can include jail time, this type of citation is not criminal and may not be considered a criminal conviction if the defendant is found guilty. On the other hand, if these citations are not expunged they will be accessible to the public and negative collateral consequences could follow. This is in contrast to the marijuana civil citation statute, which does not permit public access on casesearch and at the courthouse. Defendants would be entitled to have an attorney present at court hearings for these citations, and the prosecutor could elect to place the case on STET or enter a nolle prosequi pursuant to an agreement.

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atm-313958_1280-300x200The number of Baltimore City school employees recently arrested for stealing from their own schools climbed to four after a former principal was charged with numerous counts of theft and embezzlement. The 44 year-old female administrator from Owings Mills now faces felony charges in the Baltimore Circuit Court, which has seen more than its share of public corruption cases. The allegations in this particular criminal scheme are disturbing to say the least as this was far from a one-time thing for the ex principal, whose school closed down after the 2016 academic year. She had been working at the school board’s central office on North Avenue, but is now on leave and is likely never return. A male teacher from Randallstown that worked at the same alternative high school has also been charged, and he will be co-defendants with his former boss in one of her three cases. The co-defendant case has an incident date of June 8th, 2016, right around the time the school closed, but the former boss is facing theft scheme and misappropriation by a fiduciary/ embezzlement charges in two other cases that allegedly began 2013.

The Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor is handling this prosecution, as they do with many public corruption cases not pursued by the feds. The office began investigating both defendants after being notified of the possible wrongdoing by the Baltimore City School’s legal department. Charging documents for one of the cases alleges that the former principal stole $13,409.28 from a bank account that she set up on behalf of the school. Proceeds from school uniform sales, school supplies, class dues and graduation fees were all placed into the account only to be withdrawn by the defendant in 49 separate ATM transactions at of all places a casino. The Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County likely has recorded footage of the former principal using the school’s debit card to take out cash that was simply gambled away. Another case alleges that the former principal used fraudulent purchase orders to steal over $40,000 of electronics from the Baltimore City school system, including speakers, laptops, tablets and digital cameras. Finally, the most recent case alleges the former principal and her co-worker conspired to steal four flat screen televisions from the now closed high school at the city county line near Dundalk.

All indictments were filed in the circuit court last week and the charges were just announced by the state prosecutor. Neither defendant is currently incarcerated nor are there court dates set at this time. Both will likely be arraigned within the next month, and their cases will be set for trial 2-3 months later. The former principal is facing the realistic possibility of a jail sentence for her actions, although the last Baltimore public school principal found guilty of felony theft received a five year suspended sentence. If found guilty, the teacher who allegedly participated in the television theft will not likely face jail time and could possibly be granted the benefit of a probation before judgment, thus keeping his record free of a felony conviction. The Blog will follow the progress of these cases, and we may post another article in the future.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Two suspects who burglarized a Rockville gun shop last week remain at large, and now law enforcement officers believe they may be linked to another recent burglary in nearby Virginia. Montgomery County police officers were alerted to the crime scene last week by the store’s alarm system at round 4 a.m., and they quickly responded to the Rockville shop to find the door pried open and glass cases smashed. Several firearms were taken from the glass cases as well as from racks behind the counter. In total the store reported more than 30 missing handguns and long rifles. The burglary gained national attention after the entire 90-second spree was captured on two high definition cameras, which were played for television and internet audiences. Both suspects were covered head to toe on black garb, and their faces were covered, thus making visual identification nearly impossible. A small clip of one of the suspects warning the other that it was time to leave the scene is audible and the burglars were allegedly spotted fleeing in a light colored four-door sedan, but there does not appear to be any other identifying information on the pair. There is no word yet whether crime scene investigators were able to recover any beneficial forensic evidence such has hair, skin or shoe samples.

Another gun store was burglarized this week in the same manner, and law enforcement officers are searching for clues as to whether these two smash and grabs are linked. The suspects in the Fairfax County crime were dressed differently, but appear to be similar in stature to the suspects in the Rockville burglary. Montgomery County Police are joined by federal agents from the ATF and Virginia officers in searching for leads to these two burglaries. If the suspects are apprehended they could be prosecuted under state law, federal law or both. Under Maryland state law the actions of the two suspects would be classified as a second degree burglary. There is a special provision under 6-203 of the Maryland code that deals specifically with breaking and entering with the intent to steal a firearm. The maximum punishment for a violation of this section is 20 years as opposed to 15 years for a standard burglary in the second degree. If prosecuted under state law each defendant could face over 30 counts (one for each gun) of second-degree firearm burglary as well as theft and destruction of property charges. With the announced involvement of the ATF though, it is likely that if the case is ever cracked the defendants will have to answer for their actions in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

The ATF reported over 550 burglaries of licensed gun stores nationwide in 2016. This number rose from 377 in 2015, which represents a disturbing increase of over 50 percent. The illegal market for firearms will continue to thrive as states such as Maryland pass stricter limitations on gun possession and legal purchases, and as a result the ATF and local law enforcement could once again have their hands full in 2017.