Marijuana laws in the United States are currently an ever-changing patchwork. Bills have been introduced in Congress to legalize marijuana and a number of states have legalized medical marijuana (37 states & DC) and recreational marijuana (18 states & DC). While Maryland has a medical marijuana law, generally marijuana is still considered contraband in the state. If you do not possess a medical marijuana card (and even when you do) you may still be subject to police search and detention if the police believe that you have just smoked it.
For Those Who Do Not Possess a Medical Marijuana Card
Under the Maryland Criminal Lawyer Article, marijuana is still listed as a controlled dangerous substance. Anyone found to be in possession of marijuana can be tried, convicted and sentenced to a fine and/or a term of imprisonment. However, in 2014, the Maryland Legislature amended the penalties regarding marijuana, making the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense. Since this change to the law, a person found to be in possession of 10 grams or less can only be subject to a civil citation (like a parking ticket) and a fine. However, if the person has more than 10 grams, he or she can still be criminally prosecuted.
The law becomes even more complicated when it comes to probable cause for search and seizure. As a result of the decriminalization of possessing fewer than 10 grams of marijuana, the Courts have weighed in on whether the “smell of marijuana” is sufficient to justify a warrantless search. Since the possession of fewer than ten grams is no longer a criminal matter in Maryland, the mere smell of marijuana is not sufficient to justify a warrantless search of your person or home by police. At the same time, since marijuana is considered to be contraband (goods whose possession is illegal) and since one has a lessened expectation of privacy in a car, the police can still legally conduct a warrantless search of your motor vehicle based solely on the smell of recently burned marijuana in your car, and so…
- If you are smoking marijuana in your house, police cannot search your house without a warrant.
- If you are walking down the street and smell of marijuana, the police cannot search your person without a warrant.
- If you are driving and get pulled over and your car smells of marijuana, the police can search your car without a warrant.
If you have a medical marijuana card and present it
These rules listed above do not apply to you, unless you are driving and the police smell recently burned marijuana; then, if they believe you are driving while impaired, they may then search your car without a warrant. In addition, if they believe you are under the influence of marijuana while operating a motor vehicle, police may charge you under Md. Transportation Code Ann. § 21-902(c) and, if convicted, you could be subject to a fine, incarceration, or both. The fine and term of incarceration increases if it is a subsequent offense.
In the 2022 Maryland Legislative session, House Bill 1 was introduced and, if passed, would place on the November ballot an amendment to the Maryland Declaration of Rights (our state constitution) that would permit anyone in Maryland who is 21 years of age or older to possess marijuana. If this amendment is approved by the voters, the possession of marijuana would be legal in Maryland, putting the state in line with the laws in neighboring Virginia and the District of Columbia. If this Amendment is added to the Maryland state constitution, marijuana would essentially be treated like alcohol is today. Laws would remain on the books prohibiting the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence of marijuana, just as one is prohibited from driving while under the influence of alcohol. However, the prohibition of recreational use of marijuana could change if it is the will of the voters in this state.
For those who are inclined to use marijuana, it is important to be aware of the current laws in this state as well as the constantly changing landscape. It is also important to understand that marijuana possession is still a violation of Federal law, even in the states where its possession does not violate state law.