MD Prosecutors Facing Tough Decisions On Marijuana Cases - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

MD Prosecutors Facing Tough Decisions On Marijuana Cases

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WICOMICO CO., Md. – The decriminalization of marijuana is about six months away from officially going into effect across Maryland. Meanwhile, prosecutors statewide area left with one big question – how to handle marijuana cases between now and then.

"We're not all in agreement with how to implement this at this point," says Wicomico County State's Attorney Matt Maciarello. "I have a grave concern about the appearance of fairness when you have a person that now gets a criminal record for something that after October is going to be a civil offense."

The law, signed by Governor Martin O'Malley back in April, classifies possession of 10 grams or less as a civil matter that will be punished by a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third. Currently, the law calls for a maximum of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

Maciarello says he has directed his prosecutors to back offenders into another charge, like drug paraphernalia, or put them in a diversionary program. This requires 40 hours of community service for a county non-profit and an $80 fee, with an opportunity to get the charge expunged. Ordinarily, the program is something that prosecutors use for first offenders.

"I think that it's fair, I think that it's equitable, and it shows it is consistent," says Maciarello. "The administration of justice demands that."

However, some members with Marylands' States' Attorney Association are still reportedly taking a hard-line approach.

"People who are possessing marijuana right now are breaking the law right now, so we're not going to change our practice," says Charles Smith, state's attorney and member of MSAA.

However, the concerns about their current approach are just the beginning. Smith says the law may put diversionary programs across the state at risk.

"Those programs are going to go by the wayside in all likelihood once the legislation takes place, because again, it's going to be a civil offense," says Smith. "Our offices are not going to be involved in that first time offender type of situation and therefore this program is going to be done with. What's really unfortunate is that the legislation doesn't call for any sort of intervention until the third ticket."

Maciarello says Wicomico County's program generates on average $65,000 for the county. He is also concerned about how the law will affect proving their cases.

"We're going to have to have tests made from a chemist and the issue is going to be whether they will even test the substance if its under 10 grams," says Maciarello. "There's an expense with having the chemist, the courts time, the jury's time, the judge's time. It's a balancing act between public safety and cost."

States' attorneys also worry about how to direct their law enforcement, and how the law will affect Maryland's youth. Many agree that the law has multiple inconsistencies that could lead to big problems in the future.

"It's something we're just going to have to work through, law enforcement and prosecutors across the state of Maryland," says Maciarello.

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