ANNAPOLIS — The following is a roundup of bills on marijuana decriminalization and sexual assault heard by the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Criminal Conviction Expungement
Advocates for ex-offenders and workers appeared to offer support for an expungement bill put forward by Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore. Anderson’s bill, HB124, would allow people to have their criminal records cleared of marijuana possession offenses and other violations that are now considered civil, rather than criminal, offenses.
“Why should a law that is no longer a criminal offense be allowed on your criminal record?” Anderson asked. He offered the example of a former criminal charge of keeping a rental car out beyond the end of the rental period, noting that his bill would also allow people to have that “ridiculous” charge expunged.
Delegate Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery, has introduced a bill that would allow for expungement of a conviction for use or possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.
Marijuana in Vehicles
Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s, presented HB393, which would heighten the punishment for driving with marijuana. A person caught driving with the drug in the car would face a misdemeanor charge with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. However, marijuana locked in a glove compartment or trunk would not draw the charge.
Harford County Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Meehan and other attorneys testified in support of the bill, arguing it is narrowly tailored to discourage drivers from driving under the influence, as it would not apply to marijuana stored outside of the open “passenger area” so the driver couldn’t access it. Meehan compared driving under the influence of marijuana to driving with a loaded gun in the car.
“The marijuana itself, in the passenger area, is the bullet,” he said. “The vehicle itself is the gun. The driver is the person who would have access. … The actual gun being in the vehicle is not the danger; the danger is the potential for the person driving it to use that handgun.”
Anderson also presented a bill, HB105, to decriminalize the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. He said the legislation is a matter of making law enforcement practices more consistent, as the General Assembly didn’t have time last year to consider every aspect of marijuana decriminalization.
Marijuana Parole Violations
Another bill would exclude a civil marijuana offense from the list of parole violations. Under HB615, sponsored by Delegate David Moon, D-Montgomery, the Division of Parole and Probation would not be allowed to revoke parole for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, or because of a urinalysis that tested positive for marijuana.
Caryn Aslan, a senior policy advocate with the Job Opportunities Task Force, said she supported “less punitive” penalties compared to parole revocation. She referred to parolees who had to leave a vocational training program run by the Job Opportunities Task Force, which supports low-wage workers, because of marijuana violations.
“A large majority of the individuals in our program have to remove themselves from the program as a result of violation of probation, and many times, that violation of probation is because a dirty urinalysis turns up,” Aslan said.
Late in the meeting, marijuana advocates came forward to testify in support of Anderson’s Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015, HB911, which would legalize marijuana in Maryland. Supporters argued the act would bolster businesses, increase tax revenue and allow people to use marijuana responsibly without fear of being punished.
Committee Hears Bills on College Sexual Assault, Rape Kits
The committee also considered the issues of sexual assault on college campuses and the state of rape-kit processing. Delegates have introduced multiple similar bills addressing each topic; testimony was held jointly for the college policy bills.
Defining Consent on Campuses
Delegates Miller, Frank Conaway Jr., D-Baltimore, and Marice Morales, D-Montgomery, introduced HB667, HB138 and HB839, respectively, each of which would require colleges in the state to adopt a uniform definition of affirmative consent in their sexual misconduct policies. While the bills differ in their language, each one would impose an “affirmative consent” or “yes means yes” policy, meaning that someone who remains silent or is incapacitated has not consented to sex. Each person involved in sexual activity would have to obtain affirmative consent.
Miller’s bill would also require colleges to develop policies and programs to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. It also includes a good Samaritan clause that would excuse survivors from punishment for violating conduct policies at the time of the event — for instance, if an underage student was drunk when he or she was assaulted.
Since 2013’s federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, colleges and universities have been required to teach their students and employees about consent, Morales said. But Maryland’s criminal statute does not provide a definition of consent, which might force prospective college students to go “school shopping” for the campus with the strongest definition, she said.
Rape survivors testified in support of a uniform consent policy.
“Not every school in this entire state has the resources, or even the political will, to take on these efforts,” said Laura Dunn, executive director of advocacy and support group SurvJustice and a sexual assault survivor. “I don’t think there should be any distinction about which students are protected and which are not based on where they choose to enroll.”
Several state higher education officials testified against a uniform policy, arguing that colleges in the state are already working hard to combat sexual assault. They raised concerns ranging from Miller’s good Samaritan proposal, to the need to adapt to federal standards, to diverse student populations with different understandings of consent.
Improving Rape-Kit Procedures
Delegates Karen Young, D-Frederick, Jay Jalisi, D-Baltimore County, and Morales have introduced bills concerning sexual assault evidence collection kits. Also known as rape kits, these are examinations a sexual assault victim can undergo to obtain DNA evidence of the assault. But the state faces a backlog of submitted, unprocessed kits sitting in storage, Morales said.
Young’s bill, HB462, calls for an inventory of untested rape kits. Jalisi’s HB754 would require health care providers who perform the examinations to refer victims to law enforcement, and would give a law enforcement agency 30 days after a victim’s request to give him or her information about the rape kit’s status and any results of testing. Morales’ HB382, which boasts the longest list of sponsors, contains elements similar to both of the others.
“There’s no timeline on how long the police will take to analyze the DNA samples” in a rape kit, Jalisi said. A 2013 report by the state Office of Legislative Audits found the average turnaround time for DNA evidence results was between four months and two years.
Morales said a victim only has the right to his or her rape kit results if he or she presses charges, so police often do not process the kits. But a victim might not want to press charges without first knowing the kit’s results.
“The aim is to create a sense of trust among survivors and victims of sexual assault, that it’s worth going through the judicial process,” Morales said. After undergoing a rape kit examination, “You deserve to hear back what the result of that intrusive procedure was.”
*Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of the story misspelled Caryn Aslan’s name.