Local pot laws change this week

WASHINGTON — Under a bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly in April, penalties for possessing marijuana will loosen statewide later this week.

Starting Wednesday, Oct. 1, possessing a small amount of marijuana will no longer be a crime.

According to the measure, which is labeled SB 364, having less than 10 grams of marijuana will be a civil offense, similar to a traffic ticket.

It will not lead to a criminal record or carry jail time.

For people over 21 years old, a first offense is a $100 fine. A second and third offense would lead to $250 and $500 fines, respectively.

With a third offense, a person can be ordered to appear in court and forced to attend a drug education program.

For offenders younger than 21, penalties are similar to underage drinking. For a first offense, they may be ordered to appear in court and, subsequently, attend a drug education program.

Offenders younger than 18 will be subject to juvenile court procedures.

There is, however, a glaring discrepancy within the legislation.

While drafting the bill, lawmakers never addressed the issue of marijuana paraphernalia. Possessing something that is used to smoke marijuana, such as a pipe, can still lead to a crime.

That means, theoretically, having marijuana paraphernalia can lead to a more serious offense than having the marijuana itself.

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