Reform of criminal law is an important issue nowadays at both the state and federal level. This is particularly the case when it comes to certain drug crimes and the asset forfeiture process. Here in Maryland, legislative proposals in both of these areas have recently been vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan, and we wanted to explore this a bit.
As readers may know, federal drug policy has been making significant shifts in recent years away from some of the hard-line policies implemented during the War on Drugs. These changes have largely been aimed at easing sentences for nonviolent offenders and implementing more equity in the federal sentencing guidelines for different types of drug convictions.
In a press release last month, Governor Hogan announced that he would be vetoing a bill that would have made smoking marijuana in public a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $500 and which would have removed criminal penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia. The proposal was aimed at correcting the unintended consequences of legislation passed in 2014 which made the use and possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense, effectively decriminalizing it.
As it stands right now, use and possession of small amounts of marijuana is a civil offense, but smoking marijuana in public and owning paraphernalia are still both criminal offenses. That is the way things will remain as a result of the veto. The governor’s rationale for the veto is that converting these crimes to civil offenses would send the wrong message to the public and threaten public safety.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue, as well as another criminal reform bill the governor vetoed.