Last spring we wrote about the illogical decision of our governor to veto a bill that cured a glaring inconsistency from last year’s marijuana decriminalization law. The now famous decriminalization statute failed to address the possession of marijuana paraphernalia, which until today remained a criminal offense despite the fact that possession of the pot smoked with it became a civil infraction. Senate Bill 517 attempted to fix that inconsistency by specifically stating that the drug paraphernalia criminal laws do not apply to marijuana drug paraphernalia. This bill also raised the fines for smoking pot in public and while driving to $1,000, up from $500. But the governor, clearly unhappy that the legislature failed to make smoking in public and while driving a criminal offense, vetoed the bill and thus the paraphernalia inconsistency remained. Those in support of the veto, such as the Baltimore County State’s Attorney, urged the legislature not to override it by invoking the classic “it puts your children at risk” argument. The county prosecutor hypothesized about a Maryland where smoking pot on playgrounds and while driving on the beltway could become commonplace. But the legislature saw through these agenda driven arguments, and did the right thing by overriding the veto.
As a result of today’s Annapolis override small amounts of marijuana plus the plastic bags, glass pipes, or rolling papers used with it are officially decriminalized. Police will still be able to charge public pot smokers with a hefty $1,000 fine, and they will also be able to conduct a traffic stop for the purpose of writing one of these tickets to the ever so scarce non-impaired pot-smoking driver. For now the mudslinging between the governor and some pro cannabis lawmakers will cool down, but this should in no way be considered a truce. The governor and the few socially conservative politicians left in the state will still likely attempt to push laws criminalizing public pot smoking. But these efforts will be met with an increased amount of opposition, as polling shows that the majority of Maryland residents now prefer additional relaxing of state marijuana laws not making them stricter again. Local politicians will be reluctant to focus much attention on making pot laws stricter; especially considering the developing political story on the Eastern Shore where a congressman may have jeopardized his political career by crusading against legalized marijuana in Washington D.C. This being a story that may warrant a post in the near future.
The Blog will continue to follow new criminal law and marijuana proposals coming out of Annapolis as the legislative session begins to ramp up. In the early stages of the session the topics generating the most attention are the veto overrides, but we do not expect any to be as newsworthy as the paraphernalia veto. Yesterday the house voted to override a veto on a law that gave convicted felons their voting rights back after being released from prison, and a vote to override the governor’s veto of a long overdue criminal forfeiture reform bill will take place sometime in the near future. Readers should expect an article on this issue within the next few weeks.
Benjamin Herbst is a drug crimes attorney who specializes in possession with intent to distribute and other trafficking offenses. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation about your case at anytime.