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Federal vs State Drug Investigations

Kush Arora, a drug lawyer in Maryland, answers questions in an interview about the differences between federal and state drug investigations in Maryland.

What is the difference between a federal drug investigation and a state investigation?

Kush Arora: There is not a huge difference in the way that the investigations are conducted. The real difference between federal and state drug investigations is that state drug investigations usually come about because somebody gets pulled over for another offense, such as speeding, and the officer sees the illegal substance in the person’s car or conducted a search of the vehicle and found a large amount of it. Usually the officers find it by chance. In a federal investigation, drug cases come about when an individual is already being investigated by agents. In federal drug cases, the person is not usually charged until the agents have all of the information they need to not only charge the individual, but to be successful in court at gaining a conviction. Those cases usually involve a great deal of investigation to gather information about an individual, and the federal agents usually only conduct the arrest once they have something solid against the individual.

How aggressive is Maryland about pursuing criminal drug charges?

Kush Arora: Maryland has been extremely aggressive about pursuing criminal drug charges, particularly when it comes to possession or distribution of substances other than marijuana. In 2014, legislation was passed in the state of Maryland decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, which means that as of October 1, possession of marijuana in small amounts will not be considered a criminal offense. The attitude towards marijuana has changed in terms of the way that marijuana-related crimes are pursued and prosecuted by police officers and prosecutors in the state of Maryland. That does not mean that marijuana is legal in the state of Maryland. Somebody can still be charged and face monetary penalties, even though it will not be jailable. This also does not mean that distribution or possession with intent to distribute large quantities of marijuana will be legal. Those charges will still be felony charges and will still be prosecuted by the respected State’s Attorney’s office in each county. The way that marijuana cases are pursued and the way that cases not involving marijuana are pursued, at least in the state of Maryland, are changing significantly. I expect that this attitude is going to change even more across the country as a whole.

Do federal investigators aggressively pursue drug offenses in Maryland?

Kush Arora: Federal investigators pursue drug charges in Maryland very aggressively; they are committed to large-scale drug offenses. Generally speaking, if somebody is charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana or another drug, the state will handle the case in the state court system. The federal agents and the federal court system won’t get involved for minor possession offenses. They will get involved when they believe that they have identified a large scale operation. Usually that large scale drug operation either involves large amounts of drugs, large amounts of money, and the transportation of these large amounts of drugs or money over state lines. The federal government takes particular interest in regulating the movement of large amounts of drugs or money over state lines. Those are the cases that they investigate and pursue. When they are able to find somebody who has a large scale drug case, the penalties they will pay in federal court will be significant, including mandatory minimum jail sentences that are not used in the state court for most of these offenses.

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