Harford County Sheriff’s Deputies will have the discretion whether to issue civil citations for marijuana possession under 10 grams, Sheriff Jesse Bane said, a modification of statewide policy intended to preserve the agency’s ability to make deals in pursuit of larger drug busts.
Under the Maryland State Police’s “model” policy for enforcing the new marijuana decriminalization laws which went into effect on Wednesday, officers “must issue” a civil citation to those possessing less than 10 grams of pot. However, the policy adopted by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office states that deputies “may issue” such a citation.
“We’ve decided it’s in the best interest at this point, given the drug problem in Harford County, to make it a ‘may issue’ [policy],” Bane said Thursday.
Bane said that seemingly small change in wording could make a significant difference in allowing a deputy to use their judgment, and would allow the Sheriff’s Office and the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office to decide whether to forego a non-criminal citation against an individual in exchange for assistance in a larger investigation.
The change was developed in consultation with Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly and after months of discussions with law enforcement officials across the state, Bane said. The Sheriff’s Office was not alone in making modifications to the State Police model policy, he added.
“Some things we changed, as have others,” he said. “But for the most part it’s the same policy.”
The altered policy provides another wrinkle in the controversial decriminalization law governing individuals in possession of a small amount of marijuana. While the substance remains illegal, those possessing less than 10 grams will now receive a civil citation, similar to a traffic violation, with fines beginning at $100. Possession of amounts greater than 10 grams are still subject to criminal charges, as is selling marijuana or the possession of paraphernalia.
On the latter issue, Bane said courts have already advised officers not to use minor instances of the presence of paraphernalia as a way to bring criminal charges against those possessing less than 10 grams. That is, just because an individual happens to have used a rolling paper around an amount less than 10 grams, deputies should not use the presence of that paraphernalia to bring a criminal count, according to Bane. Legal guidance held that the spirit of the law regarding less than 10 grams of marijuana should be considered, he said.
The sheriff added that he plans to meet with his command staff in 30 to 45 days to review the agency’s policy and how courts have adjudicated cases under the new law.
“There’s so much uncertainty with this, this policy is just the first step,” he said. “The first case that comes before a judge may change everything.”