Though Initiative 71 legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana back in 2014, the voter-approved ballot initiative did not have any effect on possession of marijuana paraphernalia, an oversight that was only recently rectified when the General Assembly overturned five of Governor Larry Hogan’s vetoes on Thursday.
As a result, a bill will go into law making possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia a civil rather than criminal offense. The bill will also set a fine for smoking marijuana in public. This new bill makes Maryland’s scheme of marijuana-based legislation more consistent.
Attempts have been made before to correct the oversight of allowing paraphernalia possession to remain a crime while decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession. Senator Bobby Zirkin introduced Senate Bill 517 to remove criminal penalties from paraphernalia possession. This bill was vetoed once it reached Governor Hogan’s desk, as he cited concerns that it would leave law enforcement with no authority to make a traffic stop if they see someone smoking and driving. In the General Assembly hearing, this argument did not outweigh the arguments of the new law’s supporters, who claimed passing the bill was a clear responsibility following the success of Initiative 71.
So if you are trying to make sense of Maryland’s marijuana laws, keep in mind: lawmakers are in the process of making sense of it as well. As Maryland is still in the relatively early days of marijuana decriminalization, changes to marijuana-related laws and penalties are likely to continue to evolve as new issues come to light. Possession of marijuana paraphernalia or small amounts of marijuana are no longer crimes in Maryland, but civil fines may apply. Also keep in mind that marijuana use is still prohibited at the federal level.