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June 29, 2023

ACLU Letter Details New Marijuana Law Effective July 1

MARYLAND – Effective July 1, the police practice of stopping and searching Marylanders based solely on the smell of marijuana will be against the law. That is why the ACLU of Maryland (ACLU) has sent a letter to police departments across the state to ensure all personnel are made aware of the changes in the law. It is crucial that police departments are adequately informed of these changes, so that the new rights of Marylanders are protected from violation and that law enforcement agencies are cautioned about the consequences of unlawful investigations.

“Black and Brown Marylanders need to be assured that they will not be wrongfully stopped and searched based on the alleged smell of a substance they have been told is legal in Maryland,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland. “We are sending this letter to police departments in the hope that these expansions to Marylanders’ rights are communicated to all officers and staff within every department and that practices and procedures around marijuana are updated to reflect changes in the law – the ultimate will of the people.”

“Our young Black people need to feel safe. Black Marylanders should be able to feel confident that marijuana is legal for them to use, too, and not to still be subjected to racial profiling by police for using a legal substance,” said Dawn Dalton, a directly impacted mother and leader with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability. “In order for marijuana legalization to be equitable, our polices and procedures must not allow for disproportionate treatment or standards for Black people.”

Marijuana Laws Effective July 1, 2023:

  • Cannabis becomes legal for recreational use by individuals 21-years-old and over in the state of Maryland on July 1. Adults may then purchase and possess a personal amount use (up to 1.5 ounces) of cannabis (Article II, Section 17(b) of the Maryland Constitution - Chapter 26). Criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces have been eliminated. Only civil citations can be issued for possession amounts greater than 1.5 ounces and less than 2.5 ounces (Criminal Law Article 5–601.1).
  • With these new measures taking effect, the Maryland legislature also passed additional protections in HB 1071, which protect against the stop or search of a person or vehicle based solely on the odor of cannabis. HB 1071 requires that in order to legally support a vehicle stop for suspected cannabis impairment, the officer must provide some evidence of impairment. As is done with most alcohol-impaired stops and search, the officer must provide concrete evidence of impairment beyond the odor of cannabis. (Criminal Procedure Article- 1-211.). The odor of cannabis is not illegal.
  • The new law forbids officers from using odor in combination with the possession of the personal use amount (up to 1.5 ounces) of cannabis as justification to search a person or vehicle. In addition, officers may not use the proximity of cash with the possession of the personal use amount as justification to search a person or vehicle.
  • The legal cannabis industry is largely a cash-based business due to industry regulations and standards. In addition, banking is historically inaccessible in low-income communities and cash – in any amount – is a perfectly legal medium of currency used by many Maryland residents. After July 1, law enforcement officers who stop or arrest Marylanders over 21 who have cash and the personal use amount of cannabis will be out of compliance with the new law.
  • Evidence obtained by a stop or search that was based on the odor of cannabis alone, or its proximity to cash, or the possession of the personal use amount in proximity to cash, will be subject to the exclusionary rule, that is, if an unlawful search is conducted, anything found would be inadmissible in court.

The ACLU will be monitoring the implementation of the new marijuana laws in the weeks and months ahead. Marylanders can learn more about their new rights related to recreational marijuana at the ACLU of Maryland’s website.