Back in 2014, Maryland lawmakers decriminalized the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana. Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions, people in possession of less than that amount are still being criminalized. Increasingly, some prosecutors are charging individuals with “possession with intent to distribute” — a felony — based on very limited evidence, like having their marijuana in more than one baggie (which could easily be because they purchased it that way or had a few different strains, rather than because they were selling it).
In order to address this overcharging, Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, introduced SB 128, which MPP supported. The bill just passed the Senate 45-1. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.
SB 128 would simply create a legal presumption that people who have less than 10 grams should not be charged with possession with intent to distribute. Prosecutors could still make the case if there’s evidence of an intent to sell.
Even being arrested for a felony can have serious collateral consequences. For example, some jobs will suspend or fire employees immediately due to a felony arrest. Lawmakers intended to reduce the number of people caught up in the criminal justice system for having small amounts of marijuana — ask them to help fulfill that goal by passing this bill.
This proposal is a change from the governor’s past views on the topic; he previously said he was opposed to legalization, citing the now-debunked “gateway theory” as the reason. In fact, marijuana is simply a gateway to the criminal justice system and the lifetime of collateral consequences that come with a conviction.
While this is encouraging news, a study commission is only as good as the experts who serve on it. Please help us ensure that the commission includes experts in public health, marijuana policy, and criminal justice reform as well as the law enforcement officers Gov. Cuomo mentioned would be on it.