As of January 1st, Maryland cops can no longer arrest people for possessing small quantities of weed. But until full legalization takes effect this summer, anyone busted with bud can still be forced to cough up hundreds of dollars in fines.
Last fall, a solid two-thirds of Maryland voters approved a resolution to legalize adult-use weed in the Old Line State. This unique law doesn’t legalize pot immediately, though, but instead phases out the state's cannabis prohibition laws over the course of six months. The first phase, which began on New Year's Day, effectively removes all criminal penalties for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis.
The decriminalization phase of the law classifies the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of bud, up to 12 grams of concentrates, or other products with up to 750 mg of THC as a civil violation, with a maximum fine of $100. Possession of between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces, 12-20 grams of concentrates, and/or products with 750-1,250 mg of THC is also considered a civil violation, but the fine can go up to $250.
Before this law took effect, anyone caught with over 10 grams (0.35 ounces) could be charged with a misdemeanor and sent to prison for up to one year. But now that decriminalization is in effect, cops can no longer arrest anyone for possessing under 2.5 ounces. Public use remains prohibited, though, so cops can still fine people for blazing up in a park or a bar. Driving under the influence and smoking up in a motor vehicle also remain prohibited, of course.
When the second phase of the law takes effect on July 1st, any adult aged 21 or older will be legally allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of weed and/or 12 grams of concentrates with no risk of fines or other penalties. Adults will also be able to grow their own weed, but can only grow 2 plants per household, regardless of the number of adults living in the same house. Anyone under 21 who is caught with up to 2.5 ounces can be fined, forced into a drug education program, or referred to rehab, but can't be jailed.
The voter-approved amendment also legalizes taxed and regulated adult-use cannabis sales, but as usual, lawmakers must draft retail regulations before sales can begin. Lawmakers intend to finalize these regulations and announce an official sales start date before the 2023 legislative session wraps up on April 10th. It took years for Maryland regulators to actually roll out the state's long-delayed medical marijuana program, though, so it's entirely possible that adult-use sales may not go live until 2024 – or later.
Once sales are up running, the state will direct the resulting tax revenue into three new funds. One fund will provide assistance to social equity cannabis businesses, including those owned by minorities and women. A second fund will allocate tax revenue to reinvestment and repair programs dedicated to helping communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition and enforcement. A third fund aims to address the potential health effects of legalization. To this end, the state will collect data and conduct studies on cannabis use, impaired driving, and other relevant issues.
Maryland's adult-use law will also require state courts to establish a process for automatically expunging cannabis-related criminal records. Expungements will only be issued in cases where possessing under 10 grams of weed is the only charge, however. This restriction may actually end up hampering the effectiveness of the program, because cops often charge cannabis users with multiple offenses at once. Restrictions like these tanked Pennsylvania's recent attempt to mass pardon former pot offenders, but Maryland still has time to evaluate the reach of its expungement program before it goes live.
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