Maryland marijuana punishment law changes Oct. 1

Possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana to become civil offense

The new law that starts Wednesday reclassifies the use or possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.

With the help of Anne Arundel County police, the WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team got a look at what 10 grams of marijuana actually looks like.

“(It) used to be enough to get you locked up and have a criminal record. Now that’s not the case for just possessing less than 10 grams. That’s a huge change,” Anne Arundel County police Lt. T.J. Smith said.

Police aren’t going to be carrying scales with them to weigh the drug, so in essence, they need to eyeball it. If you possess less than 10 grams, you are subject to a civil penalty that replaces the criminal penalty of $500 and/or 90 days in jail.

“It’s similar to getting a speeding ticket or some type of ticket. It’s a civil issue,” Smith said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the law last April, and 19 states have decriminalized a small amount of marijuana. But Maryland, with 10 grams, has the lowest threshold. The Marijuana Policy Project said that most other states allow, on average, three times more.

Also, in Maryland, the criminal penalties for paraphernalia remain unchanged.

“While it’s a civil offense to have marijuana, it’s a criminal offense to put it in a pipe. We need to make a move afoot to make these laws more sensible,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said.

The bottom line the police want people to know is that marijuana is still illegal, but the punishment is about to change.

“This has been rather confusing. People think it has been decriminalized and you can’t get in trouble for it. Theoretically, you can still in trouble,” Smith said.

For the first offense, the citation includes a $100 fine, and the fines go up for subsequent offenses and then include mandatory drug education.

If you think you are just getting a ticket, you’re going to lose the marijuana, too. Police will seize it because it is illegal.

By Deborah Weiner

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