Yo, what’s good? It’s your boy Dan and I gotta tell you about some dope news coming out of Maryland. The House of Delegates just passed a bill on April 10 that bans cops from using the smell of weed as a reason to search someone or their ride. Can I get a hell yeah?
This new law, known as House Bill 1071, also lowers the fine for smoking ganja in public to just $50. It was approved by the Maryland House in a vote of 101-36 right before the legislative session ended on Monday night. But it wasn’t all easy breezy—earlier in the day, the state Senate added some changes before passing it. Now it’s up to the Democratic Governor Wes Moore to make it official.
So what exactly does this mean for all my fellow weed enthusiasts out there? Basically, HB 1071 makes it illegal for police officers to use the scent of raw or burnt weed as probable cause to start searching you or your property. Finally, we can get lit without having to worry about getting busted for nothing.
Those who support this bill say it’s necessary in order to make Question 4 legit. That’s a ballot referendum that was passed with almost two-thirds of the vote during midterm elections last year. Question 4 legalizes recreational marijuana use and possession of up to 12 grams. If you’re caught with between 12 and 20 grams, you’ll face a civil fine of up to $250. But if they catch you with more than 20 grams, you could be looking at six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Keep in mind that even though weed will be legal in small amounts starting July 1, posession of larger quantities is still illegal. And that’s exactly why advocates say this bill is so important—it’ll protect our rights as legal weed users.
This bill also comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision from Maryland last year that basically said cops could detain and search people if they smelled weed, even though the state had already legalized medical marijuana in 2013. Michele Hall, who was an assistant public defender in that case, spoke to the House Judiciary Committee about how cops will still conduct searches based solely on the smell of weed.
“Legalization alone did not fix this problem,” she said, according to a report from the Maryland Daily Record. “Alleging odor of cannabis alone is nothing more than a blank check for police to intrude upon a person’s right to privacy in the hopes of finding something criminal, and the Fourth Amendment requires more.”
The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is also down with this new law. They say that using the smell of weed to justify searches is unconstitutional and opens up the door for racial profiling.
“Marijuana odor stops and searches not only pose serious risk to people’s Fourth Amendment rights, they enable racial profiling and dangerous and unnecessary police interactions,” said Yanet Amanuel, the chapter’s public policy director.
“It’s critical that the legislature must step up and ensure that the law and police practices are consistent with…the law reflects the will of the people,” she added. “Marylanders should not fear police interactions because of a lingering odor of a now legal substance.”
Meg Nash is a partner at Vicente LLP, a law firm that works on cannabis and psychedelics legislation. She says HB 1071 is necessary if we want fair enforcement of weed laws.
“It’s encouraging to see Maryland tackling the harmful impacts of the war on drugs, not only through adult use legalization, but by revisiting sections of their criminal code,” Nash wrote in an email to High Times. “These types of laws are necessary to protect the rights of individuals in states, like Maryland, that have legalized cannabis for adult use and show the state’s commitment to addressing harms to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.”
So there you have it, folks. HB 1071 is on its way to becoming law in Maryland, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Now we can smoke up and chill out without having to worry about getting harassed by the cops. Stay safe out there, stoners!