Dealing with substance use and the crime surrounding the drug trade has long been a challenge for law enforcement and other stakeholders in this country. In Maryland, the balance between keeping communities safe and getting help for the afflicted is difficult to navigate.
For those who are facing drug charges, the consequences can sometimes depend on the circumstances and the personal history of the accused.
An overview of Maryland drug laws
In the State of Maryland, cocaine possession is defined under Maryland Code, Criminal Law § 5-601 and divided according to intent by simple possession, sales, and trafficking. The possible penalties are determined by the amount and the intention of the person caught with the drug.
For example, possessing less than an ounce of cocaine is a misdemeanor offense that carries a hefty fine and the possibility of incarceration for up four years in state prison. Any amount over 28 grams becomes a felonious action that could result in a fine of up to $50,000 and 25 years in prison. Subsequent charges will double the penalty,
The sale of cocaine in any form is a felony. The consequences start at 20 years, minimum, and subsequent charges after the first offense carry a two-year mandatory minimum sentence with recommendations of “not less than 10 years”.
If the amount of drugs trafficked is above 448 grams, the sale was to children or near a school, or it is the third offense, the penalties are a minimum of 40 years and fines of up to $100,000. When an organization is involved and sales are significant and ongoing, the “Kingpin Statue” may come into play, resulting in the strictest possible sentence.
However, not everyone involved in cocaine possession serves jail time for their offense.
Getting help for substance use disorders
When circumstances dictate that the underlying issue is substance use disorder, the court system tries to find the accused help to cope with their issues and prevent future brushes with the law. The result is the creation of drug courts that focus on treatment options rather than incarceration.
This is due both to number of drug cases overwhelming the Maryland court system and the shifting perception of substance use as a health problem rather than a criminal act. Offenders who are considered include those arrested for suspicion of being under the influence and those who have violated probation due to drug or alcohol use.
However, the accused must meet specific criteria to qualify for treatment over jail time. First, the charge(s) must be related to a non-violent offense. The accused must also fulfill their court-ordered obligation to enter a 4-phase, 15-18 month program.