A recent poll conducted by Goucher College over the past several weeks found that 60% of Maryland residents favor the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. This is the second marijuana legalization poll conducted this year by the private college located just outside of downtown Towson. Back in March the college’s pollsters revealed that 67% of state residents supported legalization. While support has seemingly dipped slightly, when factoring in the margins of error the numbers are likely similar enough to tell the same story; in Maryland and in the United States as a whole legalization is preferred 2 to 1 over the continued criminalization of marijuana.
Closer examination of the data from Goucher reveals that like most issues in the county, support for the legalization of marijuana is divided along party lines. While two thirds of Democrats favor legalization, only 40% of republicans are in favor of it. Those who identified as conservatives were split down the middle, which is not surprising considering the potential tax revenue that the state would generate. Additionally, many conservatives likely do not believe the government should be wasting money and resources enforcing marijuana laws when there are far more pressing issues in Maryland. The poll also reported that 85% of self-described progressives support legalization, which is surprising. It’s hard to imagine that even 15% of progressives believe the police should still be arresting citizens for possession of pot.
Legalizing marijuana for recreational use will generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state, while providing a safe environment to purchase regulated cannabis products. It will not lead to increased criminal activity in the area of the dispensaries, and will not appreciably contribute to an increase in DUI cases or the illegal use of pot among teenagers. These potential red flags have not shown up in states that already have established recreational cannabis policies. The fact remains that legalization is a major talking point before it goes into effect, but once it becomes law people for the most part stop talking about it. For the next year cannabis legalization will continue to show up in the headlines, but now according to multiple Goucher polls it appears an end is in sight. The referendum that is scheduled for next November will almost certainly pass, and the conversation can then shift to other issues that really are more pressing. However, within the criminal justice system the conversation will continue for several years.
Legalizing marijuana will not change the way an average Marylander goes about his or her day, but it will have a dramatic effect on the court system. There are still numerous questions that need to need to be answered such as automatic expungements for prior weed convictions, and decreasing the penalties for manufacturing or possession with intent to distribute. Selling marijuana in an unofficial capacity will still be illegal, but it’s hard to justify keeping it as a felony punishable by 5 years in jail. Perhaps the most pressing issue will be the law enforcement policy implications of legalized cannabis. According to current Maryland case law a police officer can search a vehicle if there is probable cause to believe it contains marijuana. But this is only due to the fact that marijuana in any quantity is still considered contraband for anyone who does not possess a valid medical license. Once marijuana becomes legal to all individuals 21 and over the police will no longer be able to search a vehicle based solely on the smell of cannabis. Probable cause vehicle searches are perhaps the most effective tool for law enforcement to locate firearms, narcotics and other illegal items, though police definitely take advantage of this tool. We have encountered numerous cases where police are almost certainly not being truthful about their reason for a search, and legalization will make it more difficult for officers to fabricate reasons for a stop and search.
The Blog will continue to follow marijuana legalization in Maryland and will post a follow-up article as we come closer to the 2022 legislative session in Annapolis. Contact the Herbst Firm if you have any questions regarding criminal law and the policies surrounding firearms, marijuana and other controlled substances. Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in possession with intent to distribute marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other narcotics. He is also highly experienced in cases involving firearms, assaults and white-collar offenses such as fraud and theft. Call Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.