Pubdate: Fri, 15 Jan 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Leigh Maddox
Note: Leigh Maddox is a retired Maryland State Police captain and 
speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition


It's alarming that those calling for legislation specifically making 
it illegal to use marijuana behind the wheel don't understand the 
driver impairment laws already on the books.

Impaired driving, whether from alcohol, marijuana or any other drug, 
is already illegal. We don't need a separate law to spell it out. 
Current law states, "A person may not drive or attempt to drive any 
vehicle while he is so far impaired by any drug, any combination of 
drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that he 
cannot drive a vehicle safely."

Marijuana/cannabis use and possession of small amounts is a civil 
infraction, and police have the authority to pull over a motorist for 
probable cause, develop probable cause for any impairment, write a 
citation and possibly arrest the person for reckless driving or DUI. 
The impaired driving enforcement concern is nonsense.

On top of that, some, including Baltimore County State's Attorney 
Scott Shellenberger, want to criminalize smoking marijuana in public, 
rather than imposing a hefty fine. There's no reason to treat public 
marijuana users like criminals, unless you feel it's important to 
waste cops' time and our tax dollars.

There are far more important things to worry about.

Worse yet is the proposed solution, urging lawmakers to vote against 
overriding Gov. Hogan's veto of a bill that would fix a loophole in 
our state's marijuana decriminalization law, because it does not 
address these unrelated demands.

Since the legislature decriminalized simple possession of marijuana 
in 2014, Maryland has imposed a civil penalty on possessing 
marijuana, but the baggie used to hold it still carries a misdemeanor charge.

This omission, which opens the door to the same disproportionate 
penalties and selective enforcement as criminal penalties for 
marijuana, was rightly criticized, and lawmakers overwhelmingly voted 
to fix it. Senate Bill 517 would fix this oversight by removing the 
criminal penalties for marijuana paraphernalia, while keeping in 
place the civil fine for the marijuana.

SB 517 also included a provision to impose stiff new fines for public 
marijuana use - which are stronger penalties than are in place today. 
A civil fine is much easier to impose, acts as an appropriately harsh 
deterrent and doesn't waste the time of law enforcement officers who 
should be dealing with more important matters.

Prioritizing an arrest for marijuana use in public takes that 
officer's time away from protecting the community from theft, 
domestic abuse and other violent crimes.

Marylanders clearly support ending criminal penalties for marijuana 
altogether, so imposing what is the equivalent of a parking ticket on 
public marijuana consumers is a reasonable step in the right 
direction. Not every inappropriate or taboo behavior needs to be 
addressed by criminal prosecution. Defaulting to heavy-handed 
punishments should not be the norm in a free society.

Marijuana users do not deserve the nearly 150 different collateral 
consequences that result from a criminal misdemeanor. Misdemeanor 
convictions can prevent someone from being able to enter their chosen 
profession or travel freely.

Vetoing SB 517 appears to be a last-ditch effort for folks to cling 
desperately to the remnants of prohibition.

As a retired captain with the Maryland State Police, I fully 
understand the failures of marijuana prohibition. Arresting 
nonviolent marijuana users has wasted countless law enforcement and 
criminal justice resources for decades.

At every step of the arrest process, cops, prosecutors, defense 
lawyers and judges wade through case after case of otherwise 
law-abiding and peaceful individuals who just happened to get caught 
with marijuana.

Laws that turn everyday people into criminals roll back the clock on 
that progress, and we can't let that happen.

Marijuana laws have contributed to irreparably damaging the trust 
between communities and law enforcement and the justice system.

The results of this mutual distrust have led to a culture of 
vengeance between police and their communities to the extreme 
detriment of overall public safety.

Police can only be effective at their jobs when the community trusts 
them and gives collective consent for policing practices.

The riots and uprisings in Baltimore in 2015 illustrate the chasm 
between those committed to justice locally and nationally and those 
committed to maintaining the status quo.

Please encourage the legislature to override the veto on SB 517, fix 
the oversight in our initial decriminalization law, and end the era 
of excessive criminal penalties now.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom