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Articles Posted in Maryland Legislature

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medpot-300x188This past week the Maryland House Speaker indicated that lawmakers will pass legislation to put marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2022.  We have known for quite some time that legalization is coming, but this unequivocal statement from a top state lawmaker all but makes it official that Maryland voters will decide whether marijuana becomes legal in November of 2022.  The Speaker announced the formation of a workgroup consisting of ten other state lawmakers, who will hammer out various legalization issues such as taxation, expansion of drug treatment programs and of course the licensing and regulatory aspects of cannabis production and sales.  The group will also tackle criminal law issues such as initiating the dismissal of all open marijuana cases and expanding expungement to include past marijuana convictions.  Lawmakers must also consider the impact of legalization on the state’s traffic laws and a police officer’s authorization to perform an automobile search based on the suspected presence of marijuana.  It may not be a crime to possess small amounts of cannabis, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal.  The suspected presence of contraband such as marijuana currently gives police the legal authority to search a vehicle, though this would undoubtedly change the minute pot becomes legal.

Anyone serving jail time for marijuana related crimes would also stand to benefit from legalization, though it is unclear how this would affect those serving time for marijuana distribution or possession with intent to distribute.  Possession with intent to distribute marijuana a common offense, and it is still classified as a felony in Maryland regardless of the amount at issue.  Many police officers will wrongly arrest a suspect for possession with intent to distribute based on nothing more than packaging and the presence of money or a scale.  Lawmakers must find a way to address possession with intent to distribute assuming cannabis will be a legal substance within the next 15 months.  As regular readers are aware, misdemeanor marijuana possession cases that end with the imposition of a jail sentence are becoming more infrequent.  In addition, many possession cases end up being dismissed due to the difficulty in satisfying the chemical testing requirements in Maryland.  The presence of THC alone is not sufficient to establish that a substance is in fact cannabis.  Hemp is a legal substance in Maryland, and has officially been codified as having an acceptable THC level of .3 percent or less.  Therefore, the presence of THC alone is not enough to distinguish between legal hemp and illegal cannabis.  State prosecutors have essentially been forced to outsource their cannabis testing to private labs, sometimes in other states, or decline to prosecute.  The MSP lab has not regularly been testing the THC percentages of suspected cannabis for quite some time.

Both Virginia and Washington D.C. have officially legalized marijuana for recreational use, and adults can grow their own pot without fear of arrest and prosecution.  Recreational marijuana will not be sold in Virginia until 2024, and therefore it is still a crime to sell or possess with intent to sell.  The Virginia law become effective on July 1 of this year, and now Maryland finds itself behind the curve in the region as it waits to join 18 other states that have legalized marijuana.  The Blog will continue to follow this important issue as we have for the past 8 years since medical cannabis was signed into law.  We will post a follow up article as more information comes out of Annapolis, and we fully expect marijuana to once again be the hottest topic in the next legislative session.  If you have been arrested or charged with any offense in Maryland or Florida contact criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst for a free consultation anytime at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin has extensive experience defending drug cases such as possession with intent to distribute (PWID) and other CDS charges such as delivery and possession of cocaine, heroin and prescription pills.  He also specializes in probation violations and juvenile criminal cases for all types of charges including assault and battery, firearm possession and theft.  Contact Benjamin today to learn what defenses may be available in your case.

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bowl-225x300Possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana has not been a crime in Maryland for more than 5 years, but the full impact of decriminalization is still a work in progress.  When simple possession of marijuana became a civil offense, it did far more than simply end thousands of criminal prosecutions.  For decades the odor of marijuana has been a powerful tool for law enforcement officers to initiate investigations of individuals out in public.  The smell of marijuana has justified thousands of searches of people, cars and even homes, and the fruits of these searches have resulted in criminal prosecutions for weapons, narcotics, stolen property and other contraband.  While State’s Attorneys have not been able to prosecute simple marijuana possession since the fall of 2014, police officers did not simply stop using the smell of pot to justify searches.  And frankly, at the time they had no reason to do so, as the law offered no guidance on how to police in the decriminalization age.  As is typically the case, the Courts had to fill the gaping holes left by lawmakers, though this took a few years and is still an on-going process.

Separation of powers dictates that the Courts cannot simply step in and establish policy; defendants have to be arrested and their lawyers have to file suppression motions.  Then the trial courts have to deny these motions and appellate lawyers have to file briefs and make arguments in Annapolis.  The whole process from arrest to an appellate decision that clarifies a law typically takes 2-3 years or more in some cases if the case goes past the intermediate appellate court.  With respect to decriminalization of marijuana, the first major ruling came in 2019 when the Court of Appeals held that police are not permitted to search a vehicle occupant based on the odor of marijuana in State v. Pacheco.  However, due to the automobile exception and the fact that marijuana is not technically a legal substance (decriminalized does not mean legalized) cops are still permitted for now to search a vehicle based on the smell of marijuana.  One year later the State’s highest court again clarified the bounds of decriminalization by ruling in State v. Lewis that police officers do not have probable cause to arrest and then search a person based on the odor of marijuana.  The court did not address whether a police officer would have reasonable suspicion to briefly detain and pat down a person for weapons based on the odor of pot because Lewis was placed in handcuffs and effectively arrested.  A stop and frisk detention is less intrusive than an arrest, and only requires police be able to identify a specific suspicion of criminal activity.

It took another year after the Lewis case for a stop and frisk based on the smell of marijuana to reach the appeals court, but we now have an answer to that issue as well.  As of two weeks ago it is officially impermissible for a police officer to briefly detain and frisk an individual based on the smell of marijuana.  The ruling is hardly a surprise, but nonetheless was another hole in the Maryland marijuana policy that needed to be filled.  The case involved a juvenile in Prince George’s County who was detained and frisked on the steps of an apartment complex after a call came in to police that individuals were smoking pot and hanging out.  The responding officer ordered 4 juveniles to sit on the steps after smelling marijuana, and found a handgun on one of the individuals after conducting a pat-down search.  This juvenile was then arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearm by a person under 21 and wear transport carry of a firearm.  His motion to suppress was denied and then he was found involved (similar to guilty in an adult case) of the crime and sentenced to probation.  As a result of the ruling the case will be vacated and the juvenile will have his record cleared.

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medpot-300x188The legalization of marijuana for recreational use will not become a reality in Maryland this year, as state politicians have conceded that their efforts will have to wait until 2022.  The work of several lawmakers in Annapolis sparked interest across party lines over the possibility of regulating marijuana for recreational use.  Lawmakers and lobbyists were excited by the opportunity to end needless criminal prosecution over a substance that Maryland residents want to access, while also generating millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state.  Both the House and the Senate debated bills that would have established a licensing process for recreational marijuana sales, along with a tax structure to generate revenue.  The bills were wordy and complex, but produced several interesting snippets that appeared in news headlines across the state’s media outlets.

The House and Senate bills aimed to establish a lawful possession threshold of 4 ounces of flower cannabis, which is roughly ten times the amount that currently separates a civil infraction from criminal possession of marijuana.  Many lawmakers have taken issue with the current marijuana possession law due to the arbitrary assignment of 10 grams as the amount that triggers criminal prosecution.  There has never been any logical explanation why the legislature settled on 10 grams other than it being a nice round number.  Marijuana is not typically sold in increments of 10 grams either legally or on the street, and it is entirely reasonable for regular marijuana users to purchase more than 10 grams at a time for their own personal use.  In addition to drastically increasing the amount of pot that could be lawfully possessed, lawmakers likely would have allowed Maryland residents to grow their own marijuana plants.  There were provisions in both bills that would have mandated personal cultivation to be out of public view and carried out in a manner that would not provide access to minors.  Lawmakers could have agreed on these issues in time for a unified bill to be presented to the governor.  What they could not agree upon however were more complex issues such as the potential tax rates and the amount of licenses that would be issued.

It has always been our position that a cap on the number of licenses is unfair and encourages a corrupt application process, where those with connections seem to come out on top.  There is no logical reason to place a limit on the number of recreational licenses, just as there is no reason to limit medical grow and dispense licenses.  The state could easily develop a strict and well-funded regulatory arm for recreational marijuana, and all qualified applicants should be permitted to engage in the marijuana business provided they could adhere to the regulations.  Arguments that without license caps recreational marijuana stores could then line the streets of every neighborhood are naïve and unfounded.  It is a great expense and a time-consuming endeavor to open a dispensary, and no investor would make this commitment only to fail due to an overly saturated market.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabThe week Goucher College released the results of several polls including those related to concerns over the state government’s handling of COVID-19 and the general attitude toward the vaccine.  The Towson based liberal arts college also conducted a poll on the attitude toward marijuana legalization, and the results may come as a surprise to some.  Support for the legalization of recreational marijuana is as high as ever in Maryland, with two-thirds of the state population saying the time is now to make pot legal.  This is by far the highest level of support that legalized recreation marijuana has seen since polling on the issue began in 2013.  For comparison, two years ago support for legalization was roughly ten percent lower at 57 percent.  A closer look into the polling data reveals that even republicans are starting to come around to the idea of legalizing marijuana.  For the first time ever more than half of Maryland republicans are onboard with legalization.  While the number sits right at 50 percent in favor, only 47 percent of republicans oppose legal pot.  More than three quarters of democrats support legalization and only 18 percent are opposed.  The poll was released smack dab in the middle of multiple legalization bills being debated by lawmakers in Annapolis, and may swing some voters who are undecided.

In addition to the polling data lawmakers should take into consideration that neighboring Virginia recently passed a bill to legalize marijuana (though the current law will not be in effect until 2024), and the Governor of New Jersey just signed a law legalizing recreational marijuana use after it easily passed in a November vote.  The current legalization proposals in Maryland would end civil and criminal prosecution of personal use marijuana possession.  Possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is still illegal, but many times individuals arrested for other offenses are not even charged with civil marijuana violations.  Possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana is still punishable by up to 6 months in jail, which is absurd considering the overall climate in the state and the country as a whole.  Regardless of whether marijuana is legalized this year, a 6-month penalty for simple possession has to be addressed.

As of now the two main provisions of the marijuana legalization bills currently up for debate are changing the definition of personal use to 4 ounces or less, and allowing for the limited growing of personal use marijuana plants.  If the bill passes as currently written there would be a drastic reduction of criminal marijuana possession charges.  Presumably a person could be charged with possession for having more than 4 ounces, but many of these defendants would likely be charged with possession with intent to distribute if the amount was considerably more.  At least in the beginning stages of legalization it would be hard to imagine a Maryland police officer charging a person with possession if he or she is found with a half-pound or more.  One solution to this issue would be to completely do away with the crime of possession of marijuana, and modify the PWID law to require clear and convincing evidence of the intent to distribute.  As criminal defense lawyers, we are too used to the police assuming that anyone in possession of more than a small baggie is a dealer.  This is a completely unjust practice, and while we have successfully argued for the dismissal of numerous possession with intent to distribute cases, these clients never should have been arrested in the first place.  Hopefully state lawmakers and prosecutors will send a firm message that they do not intend for anyone to be arrested for a marijuana related charge unless it is clear they are unlawfully dealing.

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gun-2089__480-300x266Over the last couple of years law enforcement has seen a dramatic uptick in the presence of build-at-home firearms commonly known as ghost guns.  Ghost guns are typically ordered online and delivered to a person in a kit with several unfinished parts.  These parts require some degree of machining, with tools such as a drill press, in order to be transformed into a fully functional firearm.  The fact that the gun parts come unfinished is what enables manufacturers to be able to sell them without abiding by strict state and federal regulations that traditionally apply to gun manufacturers.  In addition, the customers who buy and build the gun parts can also skirt certain state and federal requirements pertaining to registration and identification.  For example, under Maryland law it is a crime to possess a firearm that lacks or has an obliterated serial number.  But ghost guns are not required to be registered or labeled with a serial number.  The problem for law enforcement is two fold; ghost guns are easier to obtain for those who traditionally would be prohibited from purchasing a firearm, and the guns that are seized are impossible to trace back to other potential crimes.  Law enforcement’s concerns over ghost guns has recently become a priority for Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis, and we will likely see tighter regulations of these weapons beginning in 2022.

Under Senate Bill 624 lawmakers are seeking to require ghost gun manufacturers and owners to adhere to similar requirements as regular firearms dealers and manufacturers.  In Maryland this would require buyers to produce a valid Handgun Qualification License in order to lawfully purchase a ghost gun.  Additionally, once the bill becomes law current owners of ghost guns would have to take measures to stamp their weapon with a serial number, and identify the make and model of the weapon.  The build-at-home guns would also have to be labeled with the lawful owner’s full legal name.  Anyone in possession of an unmarked ghost gun after the bill becomes a law could face prosecution if they do not follow the labeling requirements, but a first offense would not be considered a criminal violation.  Rather, a first would be classified as a civil violation punishable by a minimum $1,000 fine upon conviction.  It is unclear whether there would be a mandatory court appearance for this civil violation, or if the defendant could prepay.  Either way, it would behoove any defendant to show up to court and fight the case or request a probation before judgment to avoid the mandatory fine and a finding of guilt.

Under the current bill a second offense for possession of an unlabeled ghost gun would be prosecuted in criminal court and punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.  The judge would be permitted to make certain findings that could end up in a dismissal if the violation is not deemed serious and the defendant has not been previously convicted.  There will likely be numerous modifications to the bill before it becomes law, but chances are that some sort of ghost gun legislation will pass this year.  Baltimore Police recovered 126 ghost guns in 2020 compared to 29 in 2019, and the numbers are bound to continue to increase absent government intervention.

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weed4-300x194Two marijuana legalization bills are scheduled to be debated by lawmakers in Annapolis in the coming weeks, and there is an outside chance we could see legalization at least a year sooner than once thought.  The bill we will discuss in the article is currently scheduled for debate in the Senate during the first week in March.  Senate Bill 708 is a lengthy one, with tons of provisions that would only apply to government agencies and those who may become involved in the marijuana business.  The wordy bill boils down to a few major points for actual consumers and all other concerned citizens in the state of Maryland.  First off, the bill would decriminalize the personal use of marijuana.  You can’t start selling it to consumers if it’s still illegal, so the lawmakers in this bill have selected 4 ounces of flower cannabis, 15 grams of concentrates and 6 plants as their arbitrary cut off number.  These limits are more generous than previous attempts at legalization, but still maintain an aura of control.  It’s almost as if the government is still in our ears saying “alright that’s enough, take it down a notch”.   A person would be able to walk around with a quarter pound of pot, but anymore would be a no no.

There are other provisions in the bill as well that would apply to the average Marylander, including easy access to expunge prior marijuana cases and strict measures to assure that individuals who are under the age of 21 are not being provided marijuana.  Homeowners and renters would also be permitted to grow their own marijuana provided there are certain safety measures in place to assure the grow operation is both private and secure.  Without a doubt the most compelling parts of the wordy bill are the provisions that discuss the retail sale of marijuana.  The bill does not simply come out and say marijuana will be legalized, but rather inconspicuously creates the existence of marijuana retailers.  These “retailers” are defined as an entity licensed to purchase cannabis from a grower and sell it to a consumer.  Consumers are not patients, so this is an entirely different animal than medical cannabis.  This is the legalized sale of marijuana for recreational use, and it’s coming sooner rather than later.

After the bombshell about establishing marijuana retailers, the bill goes on and on about the tax provisions and the social equity policies designed to promote and support small business owners.  The tax issue is always a back and forth debate, but in the end the tax number will likely keep the price of retail marijuana just under the price on the street.  After all, it makes no sense to price retailers out of the market, especially when a widely stated goal of legalization is to end the illicit sale of pot.  Anyone who is interested in entering the market may be wise to read the bill, but all others should probably wait until the bill progresses further down the legislative process.  There are bound to be more changes on the horizon.  The Blog will continue to follow marijuana legalization efforts in Maryland and Florida, and will post a follow up article as more news comes out of Annapolis.  If you have been charged with a drug offense such as possession not marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, manufacturing or any other offense contact criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin specializes in drug charges, gun charges, domestic violence defense, theft, robbery and DUI, and is available anytime at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin is also an experienced South Florida criminal defense lawyer who represents clients in criminal and personal injury cases such as weapons crimes, drug offenses and car accident cases in all state jurisdictions from Miami to Port St. Lucie.  Contact Benjamin at 954-543-0305 for a free consultation about your Florida case.

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marijuana-1281540_1280-300x225While the legalization of marijuana for recreational use will likely be debated by Maryland lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, at this point it is unlikely to become law in 2021.  Lawmakers in Annapolis have moved slowly but deliberately, choosing to take incremental steps to reform marijuana policy rather than skipping any major steps.  We saw the addition of a lesser crime for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana before we saw decriminalization, and we will likely see further tweaking of the decriminalization laws before we see legalization.  House Bill 0032 aims to do just that, and could be the last major tweak of the state’s cannabis laws before full blown legalization.

While decriminalizing possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana was absolutely necessary and welcomed, the arbitrary 10-gram threshold is far from perfect.  The idea was to place a number on the amount that a person typically carries for personal use, but 10 grams is nothing more than a nice round number and not really indicative of the way people use or carry their pot.  A person can walk into a medical cannabis shop and buy more than 10 grams, and many regular users buy more than 10 grams at a time to cut costs.  If the legislature was truly intent on sparing marijuana users from criminal charges the 10-gram threshold had to be addressed at some point.  While we were hoping this would have happened in 2020, it looks like 2021 is when the next changes will take place.

House Bill 0032 aims to actually identify what personal use looks like in the real world, rather than assign an arbitrary number to it.  Under Maryland Criminal Law 5-101 the term “less than 10 grams” is completely replaced by “personal use amount” which is now defined as 2 ounces or less of cannabis flower, 15 grams or less of cannabis concentrates and 1,500 mgs or less of other THC products.  The new bill also includes six or fewer cannabis plants and the byproducts of those plants.  This last modification would be a huge shift from the current policy, as it would effectively decriminalize cultivating or manufacturing of cannabis, which is still a felony under Maryland law.  Many states with medical marijuana programs allow cardholders to grow their own supply, as long as certain precautions are taken.  If this bill passes, Maryland would be the next state to allow some of its residents to grow their own marijuana without fear of a SWAT team executing a felony search and seizure warrant at their home.  This is hardly an exaggeration, as we have seen multiple cases where police enter a private home with assault rifles in order to search for pot plants.

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joint-200x300It’s not a question of if, but when marijuana will be legalized for recreational use in Maryland.  With the 2021 legislative session set to begin on January 13, the real question is whether this is the year it finally gets done.  Marijuana legalization has been debated for a decade, but this coming year presents the first realistic chance for it to pass.  Medical cannabis is firmly entrenched in Maryland and is helping thousands of state residents with medical issues, in addition to generating tens of millions of dollars for the state.  The detractors who were worried about increased criminal activity around state licensed dispensaries and grow facilities have been silenced by a lack of reported incidents, and concerns about increased DUI and DWI cases have been largely unfounded.  Access to marijuana by minors is always a concern, but there is has been no evidence that the medical cannabis program has led to increased marijuana use among teenagers.

The success of the medical cannabis program is only one of the factors that lawmakers will consider when making a decision to legalize.  Lawmakers will also consider whether the issue is better suited for a public vote in the form of a referendum similar to the recent sports gambling vote.  The details about licenses and where the proceeds will be directed are also issues that must be debated, but the Maryland Cannabis Commission has already been down that road, and should be better prepared to tackle the issue again.  There are still lawmakers that will never admit that marijuana legalization is long overdue, and these lawmakers should consider the simple question of whether the state should continue to support the illegal sale of marijuana or whether it should join the rest of the contemporary states and begin to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana.  Citizens that want to use marijuana will get it one way or another, and the illegal buying and selling of pot only promotes more criminal activity.

There are other collateral issues that must be considered when marijuana legalization is either put to a vote in the legislature or for the citizens.  We are asked all the time whether citizens are able to grow their own marijuana plants, and the answer is still no in Maryland.  Many states allow their residents to grow a limited amount of marijuana plants in their home, but Maryland has not given up strict control of marijuana production to anyone who is not licensed as a grower with the MMCC.  Anyone who is caught growing even one marijuana plant faces a felony charge for manufacturing marijuana.  This charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 5 years in prison in Maryland and Florida, and is virtually the same charge as possession with intent to distribute marijuana.  While most first-time offenders do not receive lengthy jail sentences for growing a small amount of marijuana, most if not all will likely be arrested and booked.  After an arrest, a person will always have an FBI arrest record regardless of what happens with the case.  Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland and Florida criminal defense lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases including distribution, possession, manufacturing, and possession with intent to distribute.  If you have been charged with any drug offense in state or federal court contact Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin has successfully defended hundreds of drug cases including drug trafficking, large amount drug kingpin cases, and possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime.  He offers flexible payment plans and is always available to give updates on the progress of the case.

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technology-2500010__480-300x200Over the last several years the marijuana policy has greatly evolved in Maryland, and more changes are on the horizon.  From the decriminalization of small amounts of pot to medical cannabis, and even the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office ending prosecution for marijuana possession, the progress has been undeniable.  On the other hand, marijuana continues to be the root of hundreds of criminal prosecutions each year in the state of Maryland, and the majority of these cases begin out on the roads and highways.  There is no easier way for police to make contact with the general public than through traffic stops, and this contact can quickly lead to a criminal investigation based on the smell of marijuana.  With all the changes going on it is important to take a minute to understand what police officers are legally allowed to do on the road, and what they will often do regardless of legality.

Through various rulings in 2019 and 2020 Maryland’s highest court has made it clear that police cannot search a driver or passenger of a vehicle based on the smell of marijuana.  The odor of marijuana or the presence of a small amount of marijuana is not evidence of a crime, and police cannot make a lawful arrest without more incriminating evidence.  Police also are not able to search a person based on the smell or presence of marijuana and then say they were concerned about the presence of a weapon to justify a search.  A search of person requires probable cause to believe that the person is armed or in possession of evidence of a crime.  In addition, police are not permitted to perform the lesser intrusion of a frisk or pat down for weapons unless they have reasonable suspicion that the person is armed.  Reasonable suspicion is a lower level of suspicion than probable cause, but still requires specific facts to indicate the presence of a weapon.

While police now have a far more limited ability to perform frisks and searches of people, they still have the power to perform automobile searches.  Since marijuana is still considered illegal contraband, the odor of marijuana or the presence of a small amount still gives police the authority to search a car under the automobile exception.  Contraband refers to goods that are illegal to possess regardless of whether possession of the goods is a crime.  When lawmakers made possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil infraction, they essentially preserved a police officer’s right to search a car based on the smell of marijuana.  Nine out of ten times when police decide to search a car, they are not doing it solely to find a small amount of pot, and this is why marijuana is such a common cause of roadside arrests.  Searching a car requires time and multiple police units, as an officer cannot search a car and watch its occupants at the same time.  No officer is going to call for backup if he or she believes that the search will only yield a baggie of pot.  To the contrary, police are generally looking for other controlled substances, large amounts of marijuana combined with currency and other evidence of distribution such as scales and empty bags, and finally firearms.  We see dozens of handgun cases each year that begin as simple probable cause searches based on the odor of marijuana, and until marijuana is legalized this law enforcement tactic will continue.  Transporting marijuana of any quantity or smoking in the car essentially give police a free look into a vehicle after any type of lawful traffic stop.  Whether it’s a broken taillight or failing to signal, police do not need more than a primary moving violation or equipment violation to make contact with a potential suspect.

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bmw-1045050__480-300x225Police officers from all over the state are being deployed to Ocean City this weekend to keep the peace at one of the largest pop-up car rallys in the region.  Each year at the end of September car owners and enthusiasts flock to Ocean City to socialize, drive and watch hundreds of customized rally cars cruise down Coastal Highway.  Unfortunately, the cruising often escalates into more aggressive driving activity and the town government and law enforcement have had enough.  The rally, also called the H2Oi, is an unofficial event that is not sanctioned by the city or the county, but nonetheless the government is forced to deal with the “chaos” that it brings.  In 2019 the event was too much for the Ocean City government to stomach, and the mayor swore the “chaos” would never happen again.  Rather than sit back and scramble to enforce the state and local laws as if it were a normal party weekend, the government made a conscious effort to come out swinging for the 2020 event that runs until this Sunday night.

The town is planning to deploy hundreds of extra police officers  from various jurisdictions to supplement the OCPD including the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland State Police, the Maryland Natural Resources Police and the Wicomico and Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Offices.  These officers will now be armed with new criminal enforcement tools in the form of legislation that passed the General Assembly this year.  The legislation allows local governments to establish Special Event Zones, which include events that are sanctioned by the government or unsanctioned but expected to attract more than 1,000 people.  The H2Oi falls under the latter category, as it is not officially sanctioned by Ocean City or Worcester County.  Once the government has defined a Special Event Zone, it can give law enforcement the power to reduce speed limits, increase fines and even arrest individuals for certain traffic offenses that are normally classified as minor and only subject to fines and points.  Speeding in a Special Event Zone becomes punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and participating in Exhibition Driving becomes punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.  This week the hundreds of extra police officers will now have the authority to arrest a person for Exhibition Driving.

Exhibition Driving is defined under the new Maryland law as excessive or abrupt deceleration or acceleration, skidding, squealing, burning or smoking of the tires of a motor vehicle, swerving or swaying of a motor vehicle from side to side while skidding, producing an unreasonably loud, raucous or disturbing noise from a motor vehicle’s engine, grinding the gears of backfiring the engine of a motor vehicle, popping the wheels of a car off the ground and transporting a passenger on the roof or hood of a car.  Anyone who violates these provisions can be arrested and taken before a District Court Commissioner, and then face a mandatory court appearance down the road.  These laws have only been approved for Worcester County, as it certainly appears the legislature is directly targeting the H2Oi without explicitly saying so.

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