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D.C. And Maryland Decriminalize Marijuana, But Differently

Both D.C. and Maryland have passed bills decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but the devil is in the details.
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Both D.C. and Maryland have passed bills decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but the devil is in the details.

Yesterday, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The move follows a very similar bill signed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in March.

By October, both bills will have taken effect, but despite the fact that they will govern two jurisdictions bordering each other, there are some significant differences between the two.

  • In Maryland, the law only applies to the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. In D.C., it's an ounce — roughly 28 grams. Phrased more practically, there's around a half-gram of marijuana per joint, so a full ounce can be up to 60 joints.
  • Maryland's law covers the "use and possession" of marijuana, while D.C.'s covers "possession or transfer," though any transfers have to be without remuneration.
  • In Maryland, the fine for a first offense will be $100. In D.C., it will only be $25. (The fine in D.C. can go up to $100 if the person cited refuses to give their name or gives a fake name when asked by a police officer.)
  • Maryland's law increases the fine for each subsequent offense — $250 for a second violation, $500 for a third — while D.C.'s doesn't.
  • In Maryland, a person stopped by police has to hand their ID to police. In D.C., they don't.
  • Maryland's law distinguishes by age, while D.C.'s does not. If the person cited for possessing or using less than 10 grams of marijuana is under the age of 21, they can be summoned for trial. They can also be summoned if they are over the age of 21 and have been cited for a third time.
  • Under the law signed by O'Malley, anyone under 21 who is caught with 10 grams or less will have to attend a substance abuse program. Anyone over 21 caught for a third time will also have to attend a program. There is still some concern over how police will keep track of repeat offenders, though, since civil citations are not entered into any criminal database.
  • D.C.'s law explicitly prohibits marijuana use in public, Maryland's does not.
  • D.C.'s law specifies that the smell of marijuana and/or the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana cannot be used as suspicion of any other crimes.
  • In Maryland, possession of rolling papers or other paraphernalia will remain a crime. In D.C., paraphernalia will be considered legal for the purposes of the law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
  • While D.C.'s law applies to the city, federal properties such as the National Mall and Rock Creek Park are not technically covered since they are subject to U.S. Park Police jurisdiction.

In Virginia, possession of marijuana is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500 for a first offense, and up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines for subsequent offenses.

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