WASHINGTON – Maryland’s drug laws are generally consistent with other state and federal laws and may be slightly stricter in some cases, according to a report that claimed to be the first to compare laws state by state.
Rosalie Pacula, co-author of the report released Friday by ImpacTeen, commended Maryland for varying the penalties for sale and possession of each drug to reflect the drug’s perceived severity.
“That is a very rational approach to drug policy because they are treating each drug differently,” Pacula said.
But an attorney for the Maryland Public Defender in the Drug Treatment Court, disagreed, citing disparate penalties for drug dealing and possession in Maryland and for cocaine and crack cocaine.
“I don’t know that our drug laws are particularly rational,” said Leonard Kuentz.
The report by ImpacTeen, a policy research group that focuses on youth substance abuse, looked at state laws as of Jan. 1, 2001. It said Maryland’s drug penalties were about average, or a little harsher, when compared to other states.
Maryland penalties for the sale or possession of marijuana range from a $1,000 to $100,000 fine and from zero to 25 years in prison, depending on the quantity and whether or not it is a first offense.
By comparison, some states have what the researchers call a “one-size- fits-all” approach. The District of Columbia, for example, has a maximum penalty of $1,000 and six months in jail for possession of any amount of cocaine or marijuana.
The report said Maryland is one of 11 states with harsher penalties for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine. Crack is considered to cause significantly more harm than powder cocaine, Pacula said.
“They are trying to cut down on crack use,” she said.
But Kuentz criticized the differences in penalties for crack and cocaine sales.
“Crack is more associated with poorer sections of the city and African Americans. White people are more associated with the powder form,” he said. “By making crack penalties more harsh, in effect, it’s a racist system. In effect, the black males get a more severe penalty than the whites.”
Kuentz said Maryland has especially harsh laws in regard to distribution of drugs. The four- or five-year sentence for possession of a drug doubles for a second offense, and there is a provision for 10 years without parole, he said.
But Maryland is more lenient than those states where drug possession is a felony, he said.
“In Maryland possession is a misdemeanor. Because Maryland is more cosmopolitan, our actual sentencing policy is lighter than more rural, Western states,” Kuentz said.
Researchers said the report is the first standardized assessment of state laws. While federal laws exist, state-law assessment is important because the majority of drug trials are at the state level, said Duane McBride, co-author of the report and principal investigator for ImpacTeen.
The researchers said, at the very least, their report provides a guide to anyone interested in drug policy.
McBride said if he had the report when his son was a teen-ager, “I would have sat my son down and said, `Here’s the reality of where we live and here’s what you could face.'”