Federal judge in Maryland questions marijuana sentencing guidelines

Recently, a federal court judge in Maryland presiding over a marijuana distribution case handed down prison sentences that were considerably shorter than federal sentencing guidelines recommend. In fact, the judge used his discretion to sidestep the guidelines, which would have called for a sentence of eight to 10 years for one defendant, and imposed a sentence of nearly five-years instead. A second defendant also received a sentence shorter than guidelines suggest.

Citing concerns of "equal justice" in his recent decision, U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar made note of the federal government's policy not to pursue federal criminal charges against those who handle marijuana in compliance with state law in other jurisdictions that have legalized the drug - such as Washington and Colorado.

Indeed, during a recent hearing, Judge Bredar raised the issue that it may be time to start comparing marijuana trafficking to situations in which smugglers transport improperly taxed cigarettes.

This particular judicial decision is merely that latest example of how public opinion regarding marijuana laws is quickly changing in the U.S. For instance, a recent Gallup poll found that for the first time ever, a majority of people in the U.S. believe that marijuana should be decriminalized. Specifically, the poll discovered that 58 percent of those surveyed are in favor of legalization - an increase of 10 percentage points from just last year.

Be careful, marijuana is still illegal in Maryland

However, regardless of public sentiment regarding marijuana, it is still illegal to possess the drug in many jurisdictions, including Maryland. Under Maryland law, anyone found using or in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana can be charged with a drug crime and face 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. These penalties increase to a possible one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for amounts of 10 grams or more.

Keep in mind though, that these penalties are only for violations of Maryland state law - those in possession of marijuana may also face federal charges depending on the amount of the drug found. However, if current federal policy in states that have legalized marijuana is any indication, as more states decriminalize the drug, federal officials will likely avoid pursuing marijuana charges against those in possession of marijuana so long as they are in compliance with state law.

As this article illustrates, the intersecting state and federal laws that govern drug charges can be quite difficult to navigate and keep straight. Accordingly, if you are currently facing drug possession charges, it is often best to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable drug crime defense attorney. An experienced attorney can review the facts of your case and help protect your rights.