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Decriminalization doesn't mean that marijuana's legal in Maryland

Some people are under the incorrect impression that marijuana is now legal in Maryland. In fact, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance in this state. While there have been reforms to the state laws in recent years, the average marijuana user could still face criminal charges in Maryland.

Those changes include a decriminalization effort, as well as a medical marijuana program run through academic medical centers. There are a handful of dispensaries and just over a dozen growers authorized by the states. However, many people who use marijuana could face prosecution for their actions if caught by law enforcement.

What's the difference between legalization and decriminalization?

From a legal standpoint, legalization and decriminalization are very different things. Legalization is the intentional act of changing the law or creating a new one that allows for legal possession, use, sale and manufacture of a product. In states that have legalized marijuana, there are often regulatory requirements and taxes involved, which benefit consumers as well as state citizens.

Decriminalization, on the other hand, does nothing to legitimize the state marijuana industry. All means of production and transfer not part of the limited state medical marijuana program are still illegal. For the average consumer, this means buying marijuana is still a crime and that the market is unregulated. Although taxpayers do not see the windfall associated with retail taxes, at least they are not paying for the arrest of those accused of minor possession offenses.

What does Maryland decriminalization do for people?

In 2014, Maryland changed its laws to decriminalize possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana. Two years later, lawmakers passed another measure that expanded that bill. The new bill decriminalized possession of marijuana paraphernalia, such as smoking pipes, as well as smoking marijuana in public. Those caught smoking marijuana in public or in possession of marijuana paraphernalia will only face civil offenses that result in a fine of up to $500.

People caught with a small amount of marijuana won't face jail time or a serious criminal record. They will only need to pay a fine. However, the fines associated with decriminalized possession increase with the number of offenses. A first time possession offense is, at most, $100. Second offenses carry $250 fines and any following offenses result in a $500 fine.

Those caught with more than 10 grams of marijuana could face serious criminal charges. As long as it's less than 50 pounds, the charge will be a misdemeanor, but it could result in a year in jail or a fine of as much as $1,000. It's important for those who use marijuana to understand the state laws in order to protect themselves from criminal consequences.

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