Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maryland's horrible marijuana laws and medical marijuana law

For mere possession of marijuana you can be sentenced to one year in jail and/or a $1000 fine. A judge could also sentence you to a year, suspend that, and place you on five years of probation with strict conditions attached (I've seen this done). For a second offense, the maximum could be two years and/or a $2000 fine if the State serves proper notice (which is always done in many counties).

Our so-called "medical marijuana law", which former Governor Bob Ehrlich (R) signed despite pressure from the Bush administration not to, hardly provides much relief to sick people. They still have to buy the marijuana from drug dealers which puts them at risk for being shot and/or arrested. If arrested, the charges are not automatically dropped. If the prosecutor insists on pressing forward (and an inexperienced prosecutor in our lower level trial courts likely would), the maximum sentence is then $100. You still get a criminal record. And if you happen to be on parole or probation then this can still serve as a violation.

Knowing this I was happy to see the headline in the Baltimore Sun this morning which read "2 bills would legalize medical marijuana". But I was not surprised to read the next line "Laws would be more stringent than other states' . . . ." Still the bills go a long way toward helping medical marijuana patients and would move us in the right direction. People with serious medical conditions would be able to get cannabis from "state-licensed dispensaries and pharmacies" so they wouldn't have to purchase from gang members. This is certainly an improvement and I hope the bill passes. It is a small step, but an important one.


  1. Interesting. Do you have any information on how often this affirmative defense is used? What are the legal requirements (doctor's notes, ID cards, etc) needed to establish such a defense? Are defendants very often successful in obtaining an acquittal?

    It seems like a pretty bad law. It's essentially conditional decriminalization, with the burden of proof placed on the defendant. Actually it's not even that good, because an acquittal still results in a criminal record.

    ABC News very recently released a poll showing 81% nationwide support for providing access to medical marijuana. 81%!!! I can't think of any other political issue that enjoys such wide support. Why any politician would approach this issue so reluctantly given this startling public consensus is beyond me.

  2. I have never personally handled a case involving this defense. Shortly after I became a lawyer I watched a District Court (lower level trial) docket in Baltimore City. One defendant entered a plea and the prosecutor asked for a $100 fine as the defendant provided some information about having AIDS or something. Of course, the defendant was promptly taken into custody for a violation of probation warrant after he was sentenced.
    The closest thing I ever had was a defendant charged with heroin possession who alleged that he had cancer. After I got some documentation of that I just dropped the case. It didn't seem like a very good use of anyone's time to continue with the case. The guy had enough problems.


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