The 2020 Maryland legislative session is set to kick off this week and there are a host of criminal law issues that will be debated in Annapolis. While it’s too early to tell exactly the kind of bills that may cross the governor’s desk in April, it’s never too early to speculate what will become a hot topic. One thing we can almost guarantee is that there will be serious debate about whether to legalize recreational marijuana, but it will not actually happen. Medical marijuana took years to develop, and even when it passed it was a shell of the flourishing program that exists today. Recreational marijuana will likely follow the same arduous course toward implementation, as it does not appear that lawmakers are in any type of hurry.
With respect to criminal law, there are definitely more pressing issues that will be debated in the next couple of months. We expect to see numerous bills related to Maryland gun laws, with some directly targeted at reducing the critical violent crime epidemic in Baltimore City. The governor has expressed a great deal of frustration over the gun violence in Baltimore and has already dedicated millions of taxpayer dollars to multi agency crime suppression initiatives. But the fight will not stop at money and manpower, as we expect stricter gun legislation to be up for debate this year. The Maryland gun laws are already tough, but generally speaking it is the law-abiding citizens that are most impacted by the state’s strict firearm regulations. New laws increasing the minimum mandatory penalty for certain gun crimes may show up in Annapolis, as well as bills requiring background checks for rifle and shotguns purchases. Rifle and shotgun buyers are currently only required to fill out the federally mandated ATF weapons purchase application, and are not required to submit to fingerprinting and background checks. It is unclear whether this requirement will directly correlate to crime reduction though, as the large majority of gun violence involves the use of handguns.
There has been a persistent push to liberalize the concealed carry permit policy in Maryland, and 2020 may be the year where process is scrutinized. A law-abiding resident currently has to prove to state authorities that he or she has a good and substantial reason for seeking a concealed carry permit, which unequivocally reduces the number of citizens with permits. The requirements in neighboring states like West Virginia and Virginia are far more liberal, and there is zero evidence that this has contributed to increased incidents involving handgun use. On the contrary, it is widely argued that more law-abiding citizens with concealed carry permits could actually lower the crime rate, and potentially limit the severity of public incidents involving weapon violence.
Maryland lawmakers may also attempt to strictly regulate and potentially ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. Flavored tobacco used in vaping has been a nationwide news story for the past couple of years, as there have been multiple deaths linked to chemicals in vape cartridges. Additionally, lawmakers have been concerned that the flavor varieties are marketed toward young adults and teenagers, and that the size and lack of tobacco smell makes the cartridges easy to conceal from parents and teachers. At the very least we expect licensed tobacco dealers and to expect stiffer penalties for selling nicotine products to under age customers. While this would make it more difficult for minors to obtain the products, it would also create a new market for the illegal sale of vape and tobacco products on the street.
The Blog will follow all criminal law developments coming out of Annapolis, and will certainly post a few follow-up articles in the coming weeks. In the meantime, contact Maryland criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst for any questions or for a free consultation about representation. Benjamin specializes in drug offenses and gun crimes, and is available 7 days a week at 410-207-2598.