Understanding Maryland’s Drug Laws: Everything You Need to Know

Like all states, Maryland has specific laws regarding drug and alcohol use. For the complete statutes and associated penalties, visit the State of Maryland website, the Maryland Sentencing Guidelines Manual, and LexisNexis.


Basic Alcohol Use Regulations

Certain requirements are regulating how alcohol can be served in Maryland.

Employees who handle alcohol must be at least 18 years old, and bartenders and restaurant servers have the responsibility of making sure that drivers drinking alcohol are safe to drive.

If it can be shown that a server or bartender has knowingly and/or purposely neglected their responsibility to ensure that the individual will not be driving while intoxicated (over the legal limit), they can be held responsible. Servers are also required to verify the age of individuals who are trying to purchase alcohol. The legal age to buy alcohol in the state of Maryland is 21.

There are fines for individuals who try to misrepresent their age and purchase alcohol. These penalties typically will involve:

  • Monetary fines that can be as high as $2,000
  • Jail sentences of up to three years
  • A suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, depending on the case

The blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) to signify legal intoxication in Maryland is the same as nearly every other state (0.08 percent).

Drinking and driving is illegal in Maryland. Like every other state, violators who drive with a BAC at or over the legal limit are subject to prosecution.

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Possession of Controlled Substances in Maryland

Most controlled substances are identified by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). A list of controlled substances can be found on the DEA’s website.

It is illegal to possess a controlled substance in Maryland unless the substance is obtained with a prescription through an authorized provider. This provider is most often a physician, but it might also be a physician’s assistant, nurse, or some other professional who is authorized to write prescriptions.

The federal statute regarding illegal possession of controlled substances is applied in most states, including Maryland. This includes many substances of abuse. A special discussion regarding marijuana laws, cocaine statutes, and heroin statutes is provided below.

In general, the penalties for illegal possession of a small amount of a controlled substance (not including cannabis products) can be listed as a misdemeanor with the individual receiving up to four years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000.

However, numerous potential mitigating factors can result in an individual being charged with a felony and receiving harsher penalties. For instance, possessing specific amounts of controlled substances or possessing controlled substances with the intent to sell them can lead to significantly higher penalties.

Drug trafficking crimes will typically include any attempt by an unauthorized person to market or sell a controlled substance. In such a case, the individual is charged with an offense that is not limited to mere possession of a controlled substance.

If an individual is wearing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, they are guilty of a separate offense in addition to the drug trafficking charge, which is typically a felony.

  • These offenses can result in a five-year mandatory prison sentence with the potential to be sentenced to five to 20 years in prison.
  • Individuals with prior convictions of possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime can face mandatory sentences of 10 years in prison with 10 to 20 years possible.
  • Certain mitigating circumstances can double the minimum potential prison sentence, such as being charged with assaulting someone with a firearm during a drug trafficking offense.
  • The person will also be subject to penalties associated with drug trafficking in addition to the weapons fine and charges.

Individuals charged with manufacturing, distributing, or possessing controlled substances with the intent to distribute them while they are near a school are also subject to additional severe penalties. The penalties can be charged for individuals who are on or near a school bus or apprehended within 1,000 feet of any elementary, middle, or secondary school property.

Penalties for a first-time offense for this crime include a prison sentence of up to 20 years in prison and/or fine of up to $20,000. Individuals with previous offenses in this category face penalties of between five and 40 years in prison and fines of up to $40,000 (with a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence).

Anyone attempting to hire, use, or solicit a minor in the manufacture or distribution of controlled substances is subject to severe penalties.

Attempting to distribute controlled substances to minors on or near school properties results in the individual being potentially charged with consecutive different sentences. For example, this could result in one offense for possession with the intent to deliver to a minor and then a separate offense for possession with the intent to deliver on school property.

Marijuana

Medicinal marijuana use was approved in 2013 for qualified patients in Maryland (those with a prescription from a physician for recognized conditions). Medical marijuana statutes in Maryland do not appear to allow the home cultivation of the product, and individuals must purchase their marijuana from licensed dispensaries.

In 2014, decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana was legislated in the state. Individuals possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana are subject to:

  • A fine of up to $100 for the first offense.
  • A fine of up to $250 for the second offense.
  • A fine of up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders under age 21 are required to undergo a clinical assessment for the possibility of a substance use disorder and attend a drug education program.

Although possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use is decriminalized, at the time of this writing, recreational use of marijuana has not been approved in Maryland. Certainly, this will be a ballot issue shortly.

Possession of marijuana in amounts higher than 10 grams (10 grams to 50 pounds) is punishable by up to a year in prison and/or up to $1,000 in fines unless it is determined that the individual has possessed the drug with intent to sell or deliver it.

Being charged with possession with the intent to sell carries a different set of penalties.

  • If the amount is less than 50 pounds, the charge is a felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or fines of $2,000.
  • If the amount is 50 pounds or more, the individual is charged with a felony and penalties of not less than 40 years in prison.
  • Subsequent offenses for possession with intent to sell result in double the penalty, starting with a mandatory penalty of two years.

Maryland drug statues also refer to drug kingpin exceptions where the individual who is charged with the intent to sell or deliver any substance illicitly is considered to be a high-level drug dealer. These potential sentences and fines are significantly more punitive. Typically, if someone is charged under these statutes, they will face at least 20 to 40 years in prison and/or fines of up to $1 million.

There are still major differences in state law and federal law regarding the possession of marijuana. Individuals could be charged under federal statutes regarding marijuana possession, which indicate that any possession of marijuana is a serious crime and subject to harsher penalties than the state laws now recommend.

Cocaine and Methamphetamine

The possession, sale, and trafficking of cocaine and methamphetamine are criminal offenses in nearly every state, and this is also true of Maryland. The statutes in Maryland increase the punishment severity for individuals who incur multiple offenses.

Typically, simple possession of small amounts of cocaine will incur a misdemeanor charge with the potential of 4 years in prison and/or fines. Subsequent offenses can result in longer terms of incarceration and potential felony convictions.

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Possession with intent to sell or deliver can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years and/or fines of up to $25,000 on the first offense.

Heroin

Heroin is an illegal opiate drug, and the possession, sale, or trafficking of heroin is a criminal offense in every state. Even possession of small amounts of heroin can result in serious penalties.

Maryland Drug Laws

Possessing small amounts of heroin for a first-time offense (under 4 grams) may result in a misdemeanor charge (a prison term of up to four years and/or a $25,000 fine) or a felony charge (particularly if it is determined that the person is attempting to sell the drug).

Possessing larger amounts of the drug results in significantly higher penalties because it is often automatically assumed that individuals with larger amounts of heroin are attempting to sell the drug. These will typically result in felony convictions with long prison sentences of up to 20 years in prison and/or fines of up to $25,000 on the first offense. See the sentencing guidelines for more information.

Final Comments

The actual penalty anyone will receive depends on the circumstances under which the individual is charged. State laws and regulations are constantly changing, and there may be differences in how specific statutes and penalties are applied in different localities.

Anyone who is seeking legal advice regarding the possession of any type of substance should consult with an attorney.

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