Maryland Momentum on Marijuana

Two important bills about marijuana use are headed to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s desk after being approved by Maryland’s General Assembly on Monday.

Decriminalization for Using or Possessing Less than Ten Grams of Marijuana

One bill, Senate Bill 364 which would become effective on October 1, 2014, decriminalizes using or possessing less than ten grams of marijuana. Under the bill, an individual would face a maximum $100 civil fine for a first offense of using or possessing less than ten grams of marijuana. Second and third offenses would result in civil fines not exceeding $250 and $500, respectively. The bill stipulates that official records of citations for such offenses would not be open to public inspection.

Senate Bill 364 also reduces or eliminates penalties for medical marijuana use and possession. The bill imposes a maximum penalty of $100 if a court determines an individual’s marijuana use or possession resulted from medical necessity. In addition, individuals can claim affirmative defenses to marijuana use and possession charges if they demonstrate marijuana use in a private setting because of a physician-diagnosed severe and debilitating medical condition and they possessed less than one ounce of marijuana. Caregivers of individuals using or possessing marijuana for such medical purposes can also claim an affirmative defense under the bill.

 Medical Marijuana

 The other bill, House Bill 0881, which would take effect on June 1, 2014, provides the framework under which medical marijuana may be grown, distributed, and sold. The bill creates the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission that is responsible for approving academic medical centers’ operations of medical marijuana compassionate use programs. The Commission would also be responsible for registering physicians that can prescribe marijuana to qualifying patients and for issuing qualifying patient or caregiver identification cards.

Importantly, the Commission is authorized under the bill to license up to 15 medical marijuana growers and can license medical marijuana dispensaries. Qualifying patients may obtain medical marijuana from either growers or dispensaries.

If Governor O’Malley signs House Bill 0881 into law, the Commission has until September 15, 2014 to publish implementing regulations. Maryland further tasked the Commission to provide by December 1, 2014 a report detailing studies of medical marijuana taxation and the impact that other states’ medical marijuana laws had on their banking and financial transactions. This study will also detail how federal laws and policies affect such issues.

With these two bills, the Maryland General Assembly has followed several other states’ lead in exploring how to effectively regulate marijuana use and possession. The General Assembly’s focus on decriminalizing the possession and use of less than ten grams of marijuana, as well as efforts to regulate medicinal marijuana use and possession, provide opportunities for Maryland to gain important insights as to such laws effectiveness. Such insights could be critical if Maryland eventually decides to legalize recreational marijuana use and possession like Colorado and Washington State.

Importantly, Governor O’Malley has to first sign the bills into law….