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Is marijuana possession a civil offense?

Ever since Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana in 2012, there has been a sharp increase in the public's interest in how their individual state laws may be changing in light of shifting attitudes toward this controlled substance. In Maryland, some forms of marijuana possession have been reduced from criminal to civil offenses.

As of 2014, possessing small quantities of marijuana no longer means a trip to jail and a criminal record in Maryland. New laws stipulate that the possession of fewer than 10 grams of marijuana is now only a civil offense. The first offense is punishable with a fine of up to $100, while a second offense can see the fine increase up to $250 and on up to $500 for continuing offenses. Those who have three or more offenses or are under 21 years old may face mandatory clinical assessment or drug education.

Although the new laws do reduce possession of fewer than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense, that threshold can be misleading, as police officers may not be carrying scales for weighing substances while on patrol. The criminal offense of possessing more than 10 grams of marijuana may be subject to a penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

While laws concerning the possession of marijuana in many parts of the country are relaxing, it is still important to stay informed and up-to-date on the laws in one's specific state and city. It is also wise to keep in mind that the Controlled Substance Act continues to criminalize the possession and sale of marijuana at the federal level.

Source: Findlaw, "Maryland Marijuana Laws," accessed June 13, 2016

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