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Maryland marijuana possession sentencing to change in October

It isn't easy to change certain laws, especially if the proposed change decreases severity in sentencing related to a certain offense. This can be particularly true with regards to drug laws. It's notable, therefore, that marijuana possession laws in Maryland will change in October.

Compared to areas around Maryland, the state has relatively harsh drug laws in place related to marijuana. The upcoming legislative change will decrease sentencing in certain misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. Of course, the approved change hasn't come without debate from lawmakers and prosecutors.

The change in law will pertain to cases where a defendant is charged with possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana. That's a misdemeanor offense that currently can lead to sentencing of up to a year in prison, plus a $1,000 fine. As of Oct. 1 that misdemeanor will no longer have that harsh of maximum sentencing. Instead, a defendant could be sentenced to as much as 90 days in prison and ordered to pay a $500 fine.

The House and Senate approved the legislative proposal, reportedly easily, and Gov. Martin O'Malley furthered the bill's success when he approved it yesterday. Essentially, the change will give certain drug offenders a better chance at avoiding harsh sentencing and getting treatment instead. Another benefit that supports the change is that the reduced sentencing will free up the prisons and save money.

Besides the change in maximum sentencing, the approved bill will mean that judges not juries will hear and decide the outcome of the misdemeanor marijuana cases. That change is meant to make the trial processes shorter and less draining on the system and defendants.

There are critics of the now approved changes. They argue that the lenient laws undermine the serious consequences associated with marijuana use. Also, they suspect that offenders will work around the law, carrying smaller quantities of the drug at one given time, but still having or trafficking large quantities of the drug overall.

Despite the debate, however, the law has been passed. Starting in October, defendants in marijuana cases involving less than 10 grams will have easier access to a more efficient and effective legal process and sentencing.

Source: The Washington Times, "Penalties will drop for pot possession in Maryland," David Hill, May 1, 2012

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