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jaguar-1366978_960_720-300x169Over the past week Prince George’s County Police officers arrested six boys in connection with two separate carjacking incidents.  The boys were also charged with illegal firearm possession after police located ghost guns in their possession.  The first arrest occurred at the end of last week when police located a vehicle that had been carjacked three days earlier.  After making a felony traffic stop, officers located four teenaged boys from Washington D.C. inside the vehicle and also recovered a loaded ghost gun.  All four were arrested and charged with multiple serious crimes, though it appears they will be charged as juveniles due to the fact that they were 15 at the time of the incident.  It is unclear whether the juveniles were released to their parents or remain detained at a secure juvenile facility.

The four boys will  cclappear at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court for their respective trials.  While the cases will start out in the juvenile court, the State may choose to seek a discretionary waiver for some or all of the juveniles.  Maryland law allows a judge to order the transfer of a case to adult court for a 15-year-old defendant if a finding is made that the child is not fit for juvenile rehabilitative measures.  A child under 15 can only be prosecuted in adult court for an offense such as murder that carries life in prison.  Juvenile discretionary waivers are rare, and in all likelihood would not be utilized for a carjacking case unless the juvenile has an extensive history of violence.  Carjacking by definition is a serious offense, but if the facts are especially egregious the Court certainly could consider a discretionary waiver.

Just four days later Prince George’s County officers made yet another carjacking arrest.  The suspects in this case were also juveniles, with one being a 16-year-old from Fort Washington, and the other a 17-year-old from Temple Hills.  Police received a call for an attempted armed carjacking on April 3 at around 1:30 p.m. in District Heights.  When officers arrived, they observed two suspects running from the scene and were ultimately able to take them into custody.  Search incident to arrest revealed that both juveniles were in possession of loaded ghost guns.  In the first three months of 2023 alone 32 juveniles and 19 adults have been arrested for carjacking in Prince George’s County.  This alarming trend

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prison-300x201Analyzing the yearly crime rates provides for quick talking points, but rarely provides enough data to make accurate conclusions about larger trends in crime.  Therefore, a more effective way to measure the direction of a state, county or city is to measure trends by the decade.  This can be a tedious process, but overall paints a better picture of where our communities stand.  Yearly crime data compiled by the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention is not officially released for a given year until about two years have passed.  Data from 2020 was recently released, and after examining trends from 2011 through 2020 the major takeaway is that overall crime has dropped, but certain violent crimes have not followed suit.

Property crimes such as burglary have steadily declined, with overall numbers decreasing from roughly 30,000 cases in 2011 to less than 15,000 in 2020.  Motor vehicle thefts have also decreased from about 16,000 cases in 2011 to about 10,500 in 2020.  Motor vehicle theft cases have been steadily decreasing over the past several decades due to technological advances in cars, but a 33% decrease in 10 years is still significant.  Overall, in 2011 there were a total of 114,871 reported theft cases in Maryland, and in 2020 there were 72,865.  This decrease in property crimes cannot be ignored, and is hopefully a sign of better times ahead.  On the other hand, there is still cause for concern about the number of violent offenses committed in Maryland each year.

In 2020 there were 573 homicide cases in Maryland, which is the highest number in almost 25 years when the state reported 588 homicides in 1996.  334 of these homicides were committed in Baltimore City, and 92% were committed with a firearm.  Also, less than half of these homicides (47%) resulted in an arrest, which is a staggering percentage.  There were significantly more reported rape case in 2020 than in 2011, and as a whole both the homicide and rape numbers seem to be steadily increasing over the last 5 years.  The rape numbers may have increased due to greater awareness and a higher percentage of these cases being reported to law enforcement.  Aggravated assault cases, including first degree assault by strangulation or assault with a firearm, have been decreasing slightly and robbery numbers are down throughout the state, but neither of these trends makes up for the increasing murder and rape numbers.  What is significant is that 2020 saw the fewest incidents of reported violent crime in Maryland since the beginning of the record keeping in 1980.  Part of this relatively low number in 2020 could be attributed to Covid and people staying at home, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, but the progress is undeniable.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabThe legalization of marijuana in Maryland will have a much broader reach than simply eliminating the prosecution of marijuana possession cases.  Perhaps the largest collateral consequence of legalization is the effect it will have on law enforcement’s ability to search a vehicle.  Even after marijuana possession was decriminalized police officers in Maryland maintained the ability to search a car based on the odor of marijuana. Police lost the ability to search a person and his or her belongings, but vehicles have been fair game.  In fact, a police officer can technically initiate a traffic stop based on the odor of marijuana, without even observing a traffic violation.

A massive number of criminal cases start with the search of a suspect’s vehicle.  Traffic stops are some of the only up-close encounters citizens ever have with police, and thus law enforcement agencies train their officers to take full advantage of these encounters.  Police are trained to identify individuals who are likely to be engaged in criminal activity, and then to continue to develop them as suspects.  Officers are permitted to initiate a traffic stop even if their ultimate goal is to obtain probable cause to search a vehicle.  Pretextual stops, where officers wait for a vehicle to commit a minor traffic infraction with the larger goal of investigating a more serious offense, have always survived constitutional challenges.  At the present time one of the most common ways to bridge pretextual and ordinary traffic stops to a probable cause search is the smell of marijuana.  These stops account for a great deal of arrests for gun and drug possession cases, but the legalization of marijuana looks to throw a wrench in this common law enforcement tactic.

When marijuana becomes legal in Maryland on July 1, 2023 it will no longer be considered contraband and thus cannot be used to justify a criminal detention and search.  This is something that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have been planning for, but there is currently no policy in place that actually states a police officer will not be able to perform a search after smelling burnt or raw cannabis.  It would have been a major waste of resources to simply do nothing and wait for a defendant to challenge a search in court.  This path would have forced the Supreme Court of Maryland to establish the policy, but clearly having the legislature enact a law would be the preferred option.  House Bill 1071 does just that, and after passing easily (99-34) in the House is headed for a vote in the Senate.

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holster-648014__480-300x206Senate Bill 1 sparked heated debate when it was first introduced at the beginning of the 2023 Maryland Legislative Session.  The debate was heated for good reason, as the bill originally proposed massive restrictions on where a licensed individual could possess a firearm.  We were skeptical from the outset about some of the bill’s language, which included banning all otherwise legally owned and possessed firearms within 100 feet of a place of public accommodation.  The phrase public accommodation included basically all public indoor spaces such as restaurants, stores and shopping centers, and even included outdoor spaces where people gather to eat, shop or be entertained.  Possession of a lawfully owned firearm would have also been prohibited at hotels and inns under the original proposal.  The overly broad language in the first proposal would have never stood a chance at surviving constitutional challenges, and enforcement would have been a nightmare even if it did temporarily become law.  As such, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did its job and drastically modified the bill in order to give it a shot of passing Constitutional scrutiny, and as of this week the bill has officially been approved in the Senate.

The revised version of Senate Bill 1 has several new restrictions that take the place of the original public accommodation language in the first draft of the bill.  If the current SB 1 becomes law, holders of a Maryland wear and carry permit would be prohibited from carrying in an area for children or vulnerable individuals.  This section would apply to daycares and public or private secondary schools, youth camps, health care facilities and shelters for runaway youth.  The proposal would also prohibit firearm possession in Government or Public Infrastructure areas, which include buildings owned or leased by the state or local government, college or university buildings, polling sites and electrical plants or storage facilities.  Additionally, the bill prohibits firearms at organized sporting or athletic activities between three or more individuals competing in the same league.  One of the broadest prohibitions would concern Special Purpose Areas, which include locations licensed to sell or dispense alcohol or cannabis for on-site consumption, and thus guns at bars would be outlawed.  Special purpose also includes stadiums, museums, live theater performances and concerts where the audience is required to pay or possess an admission ticket, fairs, carnivals, racetracks and video lottery facilities.

Law enforcement officers, active-duty military, correctional officers and even ROTC members are mostly excluded from these prohibitions, and not subject to the potential penalties that would include up to 90 days in jail and a $3,000 fine for a first offense and up to 15 months in prison and a $7,500 fine for subsequent violations.  Anyone who violates this law with the intent to injure another person faces the same 15-month penalty in addition to any other criminal violation found to have occurred.  There is also a provision in the bill that prohibits an individual from trespassing on another person’s property with a firearm after being warned that firearms are not allowed on the property.  Such a violation could bring misdemeanor charges that carry up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

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keyboard-453795_1280-300x200A Howard County woman was recently found guilty of 19 counts of making a false statement to a government agency after a month-long jury trial in Baltimore.  The 50-year-old Elkridge woman owned and operated an information technology company that was retained by the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade in Howard County.  From 2011 to 2018 the defendant’s company provided services to the NSA including maintenance and support of computer systems in the Counter Terrorism Management Center and the National Security Operations Center.  Much of the contracted work required the handling of classified data, which meant the company performed the majority of its services on site at Fort Meade.  The work on base was carried out in secure, access-controlled locations in order to limit data breaches.  This also meant that the government was able to calculate approximately how much time the defendant and her employees spent working on the contract, which billed out at a rate of $150 per hour.  Per the contract, the defendant’s company was required to assign a Program Manager (PM) to oversee performance, keep tabs on billing and to communicate directly with the federal government.  According to facts presented at trial the defendant served as the PM for 17 months from March 14, 2016 to September 30, 2017.  During this time the defendant billed out over 2,600 hours at a total cost of almost $400k for her role as a Senior Program Manager, and the NSA paid this bill in full.  Problems began after an audit of the billing revealed that the defendant was not at Fort Meade during 90% of the hours she billed.

In October of 2017 the defendant participated in a voluntary interview with NSA officials who were investigating a whistleblower claim that the defendant was charging the government for work she did not perform.  The defendant denied these claims, and maintained the billing was legitimate for work actually performed.  She also stated that her timesheets were accurate and her billing for consistent 8-hour days was truthful.  The jury thought otherwise, and sided with the government after almost on month of evidence and argument.

The defendant was convicted making a false statement to an agent or agency of the federal government under 18 U.S. Code §1001.  This statute is routinely used by the feds to prosecute individuals in all types of cases ranging from complex financial frauds to less complicated gun and drug cases.  Anyone who makes statements or submits writings or another type of communications that he or she knows are false could be prosecuted under this statute, but there are certain limitations.  The government can only prosecute statements that are material and made in connection with a federal matter.  The statement(s) must also be knowingly and willfully.  Simply denying involvement in criminal activity or lying about an immaterial fact such as what a person had for dinner would not be prosecuted under this statute, but most everything else is fair game under the False Statement Accountability Act.  This offense is generally punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison for each offense, though the penalty can increase to up to 8 years for certain offenses such as human trafficking or certain sex crimes.

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medpot-300x188Marijuana will be legalized for adult recreational use this summer, but until recently there was no indication when it would actually be available to purchase.  Those following marijuana policy closely in Maryland are well aware that the first medical marijuana sales occurred almost five years after medical cannabis was signed into law by the governor.  The delay was extremely frustrating for patients, lawmakers, government officials and investors, and not something anyone wanted to repeat.  Considering much of the infrastructure already exists for selling cannabis, the delay for recreational sales to begin was never expected to approach five years.  But would it take 1 or 2 years?  Would there be a lengthy limbo period like in New York City or Washington D.C., where pot is legal but difficult or impossible to purchase lawfully?  The referendum for legalization in Maryland easily passed in November of 2022, but it did not provide any clarity as to when recreational sales would actually begin.  During the last couple of weeks though lawmakers in Annapolis have worked hard to instill confidence that on or about July 1 recreational marijuana will be available to adults over the age of 21.

Senate Bill 516 was recently introduced in the form of an 88-page behemoth that lays out a comprehensive plan for the state’s recreational cannabis plan.  The companion bill, House Bill 556 is also 88 pages and is set for a hearing on February 17.  Both bills aim to have recreational cannabis up and running this summer, and both would authorize at least 500 dispensary licenses as well as 50 on-site consumption licenses.  If the bill becomes law there will soon be numerous establishments where any adult over the age of 21 could purchase and smoke marijuana in the state of Maryland.  The bills also distinguish standard grower, processor and dispensary licenses from micro-licenses, which have smaller space limitations.

The bills also preserve the medical cannabis program by authorizing those under the age of 21 and over to purchase and possess up to 120 grams of cannabis or 36 grams of THC infused products.  School personnel would be permitted to administer medical cannabis to a student as long as it is obtained from, and administered per a certified caregiver’s instructions.  Students may be administered medical cannabis at school activities and on school busses.  Medical cannabis would not subject to the same sales tax as recreational cannabis, which would start out at 6 percent and rise to 10 percent.  Other provisions include prohibiting local governments  from assessing their own taxes and from establishing zoning requirements that unduly burden cannabis licensees.

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holster-648014__480-300x206Nearly eight months ago the Supreme Court ruled that the carrying a handgun in public is a constitutional right protected by the Second Amendment.  In fashioning this ruling, the court declared that state and local governments shall issue concealed carry permits to qualified individuals who can satisfy objective requirements such as background checks and completion of gun safety courses.  The flip side is that the court did away with laws that gave state and local governments the ability to arbitrarily decide who may receive a concealed carry permit.  These “may issue” laws required a person to prove to the government that they were worthy of a permit, and denials were routinely handed out without further explanation.

Maryland was once a “may issue” state that required residents to prove a good and substantial reason to carry a gun, but since June the State Police has been ordered to issue permits to all qualified applicants.  Since the ruling there have been upwards of 80,000 concealed carry applications compared to 12,000 in all of 2021.  The spike in applications has been a major source of concern for some lawmakers in Annapolis who are now attempting to chip away at the Supreme Court’s ruling.  Citing the exponential rise in gun violence and a suspected connection between an increase in legal gun purchasing with an increase in illegal guns on the street, so called public safety advocates have sponsored a bill that would restrict where a licensed individual can carry a firearm.  Senate Bill 1, which was debated this week, would criminalize the possession of a firearm within 100 feet of a place of public accommodation.  This new misdemeanor offense would carry a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail, and apply to all citizens regardless of permit status.  The new law would be codified under 4-111 and 4-112 of the criminal law article, rather than the Maryland public safety code where many gun laws are listed.

The obvious question is how the legislature will attempt to define “place of public accommodation”, as the law rests entirely on this arbitrary definition.  As of now the definition of public accommodation includes inns, hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, sports arenas, concert halls and all other entertainment venues.  It would also include all retail establishments that offer goods, services, entertainment, recreation or transportation.  Basically, the bills authors tried to include all public indoor spaces and outdoor spaces where people gather to eat, shop or be entertained.  Anyone with time to kill could probably think of a place that the authors missed, but the definition seems comprehensive.  It might be more productive to think of the places that were left out, as the main ones appear to be parks and anywhere a person is in transit such as driving on a highway or walking down a sidewalk.  On the other hand, the provision that you cannot be within 100 feet of one of these establishments will create a host of issues.  You could hypothetically be breaking the law if you have your legal firearm in your vehicle while driving past a store, going to pick up food at and even walking down the sidewalk.  For this reason, the law as written stands very little chance of hitting the governor’s desk.  Regardless, gun rights advocates showed up in force in Annapolis this week to protest, and the protests will only grow stronger if the law progresses.

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annapolis-237078_960_720-300x195The 2023 Maryland legislative session is underway, and there are currently dozens of criminal law bills that are being debated in Annapolis.  Guns, marijuana and juvenile justice reform are three of the main issues this year, but there are numerous other proposals that could significantly alter the way crimes are policed and prosecuted.  One of the issues at the forefront of media coverage is increasing the penalty for Maryland’s main gun possession law.  Wearing, transporting or carrying a handgun currently has a maximum penalty of three years incarceration and a $2,500 fine upon conviction.  This offense also carries a 30-day mandatory jail sentence that becomes 90 days if the offense occurred on public school property.  The mandatory jail term is rarely imposed though, as it is not normal practice for the State to file a notice to seek mandatory incarceration in these cases.  Additionally, a judge may grant probation before judgment, which effectively erases any requirement to impose mandatory jail.  For comparison, probation before judgment is not available to anyone found guilty of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person or by a convicted felon, so the mandatory time is actually mandatory.  Some lawmakers and the Baltimore City State’s Attorney are lobbying to increase the maximum penalty for possession of a handgun to 5 years of incarceration, which would mirror the maximum penalty for possession of a firearm by a minor under the public safety article.

There does not seem to be an overly persuasive argument to increase the penalty for wear, transport or carry of a handgun to 5 years.  Anyone with more than a minor criminal record who is found with a gun will likely be charged with possession by a prohibited person and thus face a mandatory 5-year sentence.  Additionally, anyone who uses a handgun in a crime will face a significantly harsher punishment for  other offenses such as use of a handgun in a crime of violence.  Those with minor or no criminal record will not and should not serve anywhere near the current maximum of 3 years.  If uniformity is the ultimate goal, lawmakers should look to decrease the penalty for minor in possession of a firearm to 3 years rather than seek to add more time, which ultimately is only used as leverage in plea bargaining.  In reality it’s much easier for a lawmakers in this current climate to say they fought for tougher guns laws, even if said laws have literally no effect on crime deterrence and public safety.

Lawmakers are also seeking to change laws related to certain sex crimes, with one proposal expanding the definition of a 4th degree sexual offense for persons in a position of authority.  Under Maryland law it is considered a sex offense in the 4thdegree if a school employee such as a teacher, coach or administrator to have a sexual relationship or have sexual contact with a minor who is a student at the same school.  This is a strict liability offense that applies specifically to students who are 16 or 17, and thus past the age of consent in Maryland.  If the bill passes it would also subject volunteers, interns or basically any adult in a supervisory role with an institution, program or activity to criminal prosecution for having sexual contact with a minor who is a participant of the institution, program or activity.  Under Maryland law, 4th degree sexual offense carries a maximum jail sentence of 1 year, but could potentially lead to mandatory registration as a tier 1 sex offender for 15 years.

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copblock-police-corruption-300x200A Maryland State Trooper with more than 10 years of service has been charged with several federal felonies for attempting to tip off a drug dealer about ongoing investigations in exchange for cash.  The trooper was arrest by the FBI and now faces charges including bribery, conspiracy to distribute controlled dangerous substances, using a communications facility to commit a drug felony and aiding and abetting in the distribution of controlled dangerous substances.  The affidavit used to charge the trooper was heavily redacted due to the ongoing nature of the investigation and other considerations, but the public recently became aware of the general nature of the trooper’s alleged unfortunate course of conduct.  What we do know is that the trooper was assigned to the Criminal Enforcement Division Western Region Narcotics, which works closely with federal law enforcement agencies such as the DEA and FBI.  Western Maryland counties including Washington County and Frederick County have been identified by the feds as drug trafficking hot spots, and therefore receive federal funding for ramped up law enforcement activity.  The Narcotics Task Force in Washington County is another example of a state law enforcement agency (Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Hagerstown Police Department) that works closely with the feds.  This particular trooper attended high school in Frederick County and achieved the rank of Corporal before being placed on administrative leave due to the investigation.  The accused was also a recipient of a trooper of the year award for the Salisbury Barrack in 2013.

At some point during an investigation into a Drug Trafficking Organization or DTO that was operating in the Hagerstown area, the trooper reached out to a suspect looking to profit off of law enforcement information.  The trooper relayed that he had information about GPS tracking devices being placed on cars, future search warrants and later a potential wire-tap.  It turns out that the wire-tap information was fabricated by the government in an attempt to weed out the leak from within the law enforcement team working the case.  The government’s theory based on the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint seems to be that the trooper was in severe debt, with credit card payments and loans exceeding $67,000, and was desperate for cash.  His desperation caused him to strike a cash for information deal with a drug dealer who was under federal investigation.  The dealer was likely a cooperating witness for the government, but at this point there is no information to rule out that he/she was an undercover law enforcement officer.

After a well-documented back and forth that was memorialized on Facebook messenger, the trooper agreed to provide sensitive information to the alleged dealer for $1,800 cash.  The cash was marked and then placed behind a Hagerstown motel dumpster by undercover FBI agents.  The FBI continued to monitor the location of the marked cash, and appeared to witness the trooper picking up the money.  There was nothing in the affidavit that stated they specifically identified the trooper as the one who picked up the money, but they did ping his cellphone as being at the location of the dumpster at the time of the pickup.  The trooper and the drug dealer then had a conversation again on Facebook that confirmed he received the money.  Additionally, the drug dealer requested that the trooper run one of his alleged friends through NCIC to see if there was an outstanding warrant, which the trooper agreed to do.  This was probably another attempt to induce the trooper into more unlawful behavior, as misuse of law enforcement databases can be prosecuted.

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weed4-300x194As of midnight on January 1, possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime in Maryland, and more changes to the state’s pot laws are in store for the rest of 2023.  Back in 2014 when Marijuana possession was first decriminalized there was much debate of the threshold amount.  Some lawmakers argued for an ounce or more, while others fought for lower limits as a compromise for any decriminalization in the first place.  As compromises typically go, many lawmakers left Annapolis wishing the decriminalization limit was different, but satisfied they got somewhere.  There was never any real logic to the arbitrary limit of 10 grams, and despite repeated efforts to change the number, it stuck for more than 6 years.  The 10-gram limit was always a placeholder, as recreational marijuana was a foregone conclusion.  It seemed as if lawmakers put off raising the 10-gram limit because they knew its days were numbered by the implementation of a much larger policy change.  Well, now that change is upon us, and it will soon be perfectly legal for an adult over the age of 21 to walk around with a bag of pot.  But until that day arrives on July 1 when the trees are in full bloom and the sun is hot, adults without medical cards will still have to think twice about transporting their stash.

Marijuana possession for adults over the age of 21 was virtually erased from the books as a criminal offense in Maryland when the ball dropped this past Saturday.  We say virtually because possession of more than 2.5 ounces is still a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 6 months in jail.  On the other hand, most people caught with more than 2.5 ounces will likely be charged with possession with intent to distribute or PWID as commonly called in the courts.  PWID marijuana now a misdemeanor punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.  Maryland law 5-602(b) states that “possession of the civil use amount of cannabis or the personal use amount of cannabis without other evidence of an intent to distribute or dispense does not constitute a violation [of the possession with intent to distribute law]”.  This is part of the reason why the legislature decided on the 2.5-ounce threshold, and why the 10-gram threshold was mostly illogical.  While there are some exceptions, lawful marijuana users typically to do not carry around more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana, an amount roughly the most a typical sandwich bag can hold.  Lawmakers finally agreed to not subject marijuana users to criminal punishment, which was certainly not the case with the 10-gram limit.  Recreational pot smokers routinely carry more than 10 grams of marijuana, as it is commonly purchased in half ounces or ounces (13 and 26 grams respectively).  We applaud the legislature for raising the possession limits, though it still came a few years too late for some.  Fortunately, there is now hope for all of those individuals charged and convicted with past possession of marijuana offenses in state court.

Another component of the new law that went into effect on January 1 is a provision entitling anyone with a marijuana possession conviction to have that conviction expunged.  In addition, all marijuana possession convictions must be removed from public record by 2024.  Gone are the days when a pot conviction will cost someone a job or admission into a school or program.  The specific components of the temporary possession law state that a person who possesses up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana could face a civil fine of up to $100.  Anyone caught with more than 1.5 ounces but less than 2.5 ounces faces a $200 civil fine, and as mentioned before, possession over 2.5 ounces is a crime punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.  It is still a crime for young adults and juveniles to possess marijuana in Maryland, so if your child has been charged it is important to fight the case and to contact a lawyer.

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