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The Impact of New Drug Laws in Maryland
Kush Arora, a drug lawyer in Maryland, answers questions about the impact of new drug laws in Maryland.
How do you expect the recent changes in marijuana laws to affect your clients?
Kush Arora: I see the impact already. The court system has already begun to treat simple possession of small amounts of marijuana as a decriminalized offense by allowing people to pay fines, make donations, do community service hours in order to give back to the community, or participate in a brief drug education class in order to obtain a dismissal. The changes are already having an impact on the court. In terms of the impact on clients, a lot of people don’t realize that decriminalization does not make something legal. Unfortunately, I’ve already started seeing people carrying around larger amounts of marijuana than they might have in the past assuming that now it’s okay and not realizing that sometimes those larger amounts are going to get them into trouble for something more significant, like possession with intent to distribute or distribution. There are individuals who are getting themselves in trouble because they have not been properly educated on the new law. I explain to all of my clients that decriminalization does not make something legal. Police officers will also be more inclined to go through simple possession cases with a fine-tooth comb now and address issues that they might have let slip in the past in order to charge clients with something more serious because they won’t be able to get as many criminal prosecutions as they used to. I encourage people to read the law, make sure they understand it, and recognize that this law does not allow people to carry around marijuana. The law changes the severity of the punishment, but does not make it legal.
If the charges are dropped in a drug case, can the person have the substances that were seized returned to them?
Kush Arora: That does not usually happen in Maryland because marijuana is not legal and very few growers are permitted to grow medicinally at this point. In Maryland, during the course of an arrest somebody’s prescription medication might have been confiscated. Prescription medications are also considered controlled dangerous substances just like marijuana, cocaine, or ecstasy. However, sometimes the prescription medications are legitimate but the officers confiscated them because they were not properly identified, for example if they were outside of their bottle or in a plastic bag in the person’s purse. In those cases, officers are required to confiscate them as contraband. There is a procedure by which they will turn them in to the appropriate authorities within their department and the prescription medication will be kept as evidence. Should an individual be able to demonstrate that the prescriptions were rightfully theirs and that they were prescribed legitimately, usually those prescriptions can be returned. Those issues are usually litigated by the county attorney’s office in a particular state.