This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now approaching the top of our list. The remaining states all have legalized medical marijuana. The criminal penalties in the remaining states range from bad to good, but many have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. We continue our coverage of East Coast states with state number eleven: Maryland.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. Maryland has decriminalized the possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis, making it a civil rather than criminal offense without the possibility of incarceration. Fines for this amount may not exceed $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for any subsequent offenses. Possession of between 10 grams to 50 pounds earns a maximum sentence 1 year and maximum fine of $1,000. Possession of over 50 pounds earns a minimum sentence of 5 years and a fine up to $100,000.
Maryland punishes possession with intent to distribute based on the amount of cannabis. Less than 50 pounds earns up to 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000. Over 50 pounds earns a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000. Maryland punishes individuals who organize, supervise, finance, or manage a conspiracy to distribute, dispense, or transport over 50 pounds of marijuana as “drug kingpins.” Offenders face 20-40 years in prison without the possibility of parole and a maximum fine of $1,000,000.
Medical Marijuana. Maryland passed a “medical marijuana affirmative defense law” in 2003 which created a defense to prosecution for those using marijuana for “medical necessity.” In 2014, Maryland enacted legislation to broaden its medical marijuana program and to create a licensed medical marijuana market. This bill established the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee Maryland’s medical marijuana program. It also created licenses for growers, processors, and dispensaries. The Commission has recently faced scrutiny for failing to award any licenses to business owned by African Americans.
Maryland patients suffering from the following conditions can qualify for medical cannabis use:
- Cachexia, Anorexia, or Wasting Syndrome
- Chronic Pain
- Severe or persistent muscle spasms
Cannabis patients must obtain an authorization from a healthcare provider authorized to recommend marijuana. In 2016, Maryland lawmakers passed HB 104 which allows dentists, podiatrists, and nurse practitioners to recommend medical cannabis. The patient must have an existing relationship with the healthcare provider authorizing his or her cannabis use. The healthcare provider then can provide the patient with a written certification to use cannabis. Patients may — but are not required to — obtain a registration card from the Commission.
Cannabis patients are allowed to possess approximately four ounces of dried flower or 36 grams of extracted THC. A physician may make a special determination for patients to possess more cannabis. Patients are not permitted to grow their own cannabis; they must obtain it from a dispensary. The Commission expects Maryland’s first cannabis dispensaries to open during the summer of 2017.
Bottomline. Maryland’s cannabis laws are relatively lenient. A person faces only one year of imprisonment for possession of up to 50 pounds of cannabis. This amount would result in serious jail time in many other states. The state’s medical marijuana program has been in place for years and lawmakers have recently expanded the program immensely, making Maryland one of the better states for cannabis, but just short of our top ten.