Maryland legislators consider downgrading drug offenses

Maryland legislators consider downgrading drug offenses

A group of Maryland lawmakers is fighting for residents who have been charged with criminal offenses for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The change would downgrade certain types of drug offenses out of the criminal realm, instead relegating them to the civil courts. Instead of facing criminal charges, the violators would face punishment akin to a parking ticket. These changes come at a time that another cadre of legislators is pushing for marijuana legalization in the state.

In addition to lowering the penalty for such drug crimes, the proposed measure would allow convicts to expunge previous convictions for certain types of drug crimes. In other words, the drug offenses that are transformed into civil matters for new defendants would also be wiped off of convicts’ criminal records. Supporters say that particular provision would have a significant positive impact, opening career paths and other opportunities for those who have been struggling with their old drug convictions.

Cases such as that of the Maryland woman who was pursuing her master’s degree in education spring to mind. That woman was arrested after officers found a minute amount of marijuana in her car; the drug had been hidden in her passenger’s purse. Even though the woman was never convicted, an arrest record still existed, and her teaching career was effectively terminated. She could not even volunteer within Baltimore schools.

Defendants who have faced minor drug possession arrests should not have to pay for the rest of their lives for one indiscretion. In the previous case, the woman’s passenger was the one with the drugs — she just happened to be in the defendant’s vehicle. A Maryland criminal defense attorney may be able to help defendants facing drug offenses learn more about their legal rights and options, even as legislators consider codifying leniency.

Source: Bowie Patch, “Marijuana Bill Would Clean Slate for Some Past Offenders” Megan Brockett, Capital News Service, Mar. 15, 2014

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