ANNAPOLIS – Calling marijuana the “drug of choice” fortoday’s youth, police urged the Senate Judicial ProceedingsCommittee to lower the amount necessary for a felony possessioncharge from 100 to 10 pounds.
“Marijuana seems to be making an incredible comeback,especially with our youth,” Carroll County Assistant StatesAttorney Jerry F. Barnes told the committee Thursday.
The change, police said, would allow them to bring smugglersup on more serious charges.
“The quantities that are being seized are typically five-and 10- and 15-pound quantities,” Barnes said. “The obviousreason for the smaller quantities: [Marijuana] is much morevaluable now… and it is much less risky to smuggle in smallerquantities.”
Since 1980, when the 100-pound threshold was established,the street price of marijuana has increased from about $20 anounce to between $150 and $400, police said. They added that evensmall-time dealers can earn over $200,000 a year withouttransporting large amounts.
“A smart drug dealer – specifically in Maryland – is notgoing to bring in large quantities of marijuana,” said Sgt.Joseph Bisesi, who investigates narcotics crimes for the AnneArundel County Police Department.
With marijuana, a felony possession conviction carries amaximum penalty of 25 years in prison and/or a fine of up to$50,000. A misdemeanor conviction carries a four-year sentenceand/or a maximum $25,000 fine.
Major E.E. Dennis of the Maryland State Police told thecommittee that marijuana is much more potent now than it was in1980.
Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore, asked police to assessthe health risks of marijuana as opposed to other drugs.
In response, Dennis called marijuana a “gateway drug,” whichfosters more narcotics crimes. “An individual who starts offusing marijuana … will succeed to something else, whether it beheroin or cocaine,” he said.
Exacerbating the problem, Dennis said, is the fact thatmarijuana is grown all over Maryland as well as being smuggledin.
Last year a similar bill passed the Senate unanimously butwas killed in the House Judiciary Committee.
“Not many bills survive that committee that would stiffenpenalties,” said Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, who sponsoredthe measure. Haines said that if the felony amount couldn’t be reducedall the way to 10 pounds, there could be a compromise. But heemphasized, “It’s time to reduce the amount.” -30-