The 2015 legislative session is officially underway, which means our focus will shift slightly from reporting Blog worthy criminal incidents to updating readers with the progress of new potential criminal laws. Last year was quite eventful from a criminal law standpoint; simple possession of marijuana was transformed from an offense punishable by 90 days in jail to a civil infraction punishable by a fine of a hundred bucks, and the medical marijuana program was given legs after a year in the doldrums. While medical marijuana is still a year or so away from being operational, the decriminalization law has already impacted hundreds of would be defendants, cops, state’s attorneys, and of course criminal defense lawyers. It is difficult to imagine that this year’s session will produce the same type of splash, but advocates of legalized recreational marijuana would certainly beg to differ.
Various reports out of Annapolis have marijuana legalization efforts making early waves in the first couple weeks of the 2015 session. While bills do not hit the floors of the Senate and the House until February, the lobbying begins as soon as the State House doors are opened. A pro legalization press conference last week featured numerous state lawmakers, as well as politicians from two states that legalized pot over a year ago. Colorado state representative Jonathan Singer was one of the influential voices for passing legalization in his home state, and he spoke about their success in regulating recreational pot while reaping its tax benefits. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who immediately ceased all marijuana possession prosecutions upon taking office in 2010, echoed Singer’s sentiments. The Washington state politician also spoke about the benefits of bringing in tax dollars rather than spending them on jailing adult citizens for possession. Both of these states have enjoyed a successful first year of legalization, as they have raked in millions without any noticeable increase in criminal activity or drug abuse.
The arguments for legalizing pot are practical and logical, and there is a concrete track record for the success of legalization. The arguments against it are predominantly speculative and lack fiscal awareness. Most of the detractors speak about needing more time and more data, or return to the hypothetical gateway drug rhetoric. Additionally these detractors almost always fall back on the hot button argument about protecting the children; an argument that is designed to spur emotions rather than logical discussion about how legalization would specifically impact the availability of pot to minors. In the end though it really comes down to the will of the citizens, otherwise known as the voters. Just over 50 percent of Marylanders are pro legalization and less than 40 percent are against it, but these numbers were much higher in Colorado and Washington. Once support for legalization in our state definitively crosses the 60 percent mark it will be a matter of months and not years for legalization to become a reality. It’s just a stretch to believe that will materialize this year. But stranger things have happened, and at the very least all the lobbying will build the foundation for a successful legalization push in the next 2 or 3 years. As always, the Blog will follow this story as bills are discussed and introduced in the General Assembly, and we’ll post a follow up as news arrives.
Benjamin Herbst is Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in drug offenses such as marijuana distribution and manufacturing. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation any time.