Drug charges for paraphernalia but not marijuana?

Maryland has officially passed a marijuana decriminalization measure, much to the delight of many criminal defense activists. However, a new set of problems have cropped up because lawmakers and officers are now having to deal with legal inconsistencies. The changing nature of drug offenses in Maryland may lead to some confusion while the measures await official implementation.

Official reports show that the new law would still classify marijuana as an illegal substance. However, those who are found with amounts smaller than 10 grams of the drug would only pay civil fines rather than facing serious criminal drug charges. These civil programs would allow drug charges to be treated like traffic violations. The measure was passed during the closing days of the legislative session in April.

One of the major inconsistencies in the law is the fact that the possession of drug paraphernalia is still considered a criminal offense. These can include rolling paper, pipes and other objects used to consume marijuana. In other words, once the law goes into effect, some people may be arrested for possessing the paraphernalia, even though the drug is not criminalized.

Attorney generals in the state say that they must follow the letter of the law, not just its spirit. The written law may need to be modified to be more realistic. That is what had to happen in Ohio, according to some advocates; in that state, paraphernalia was still considered illegal until just a couple years ago, even though the state had decriminalized the drug decades ago.

It is important for lawmakers to understand the unintended consequences of the laws they pass. Criminal defendants will almost certainly benefit from the new, lenient guidelines for marijuana possession. However, they may still find themselves in legal hot water after being caught with associated paraphernalia.

Source:  Herald-Mail Media, “Maryland’s marijuana decriminalization law leads to questions about inconsistencies” Kaustuv Basu, Apr. 27, 2014