Medical marijuana public use restrictions sought

Wicomico State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes,right, and Bill McDermott, Deputy State’s Attorney.

Wicomico County is poised to become just the second jurisdiction in Maryland to crack down on marijuana use in public.

The County Council recently heard an appeal from Sheriff Mike Lewis and State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes, who want county leaders to implement a measure that places medical marijuana in the same enforcement arena as alcohol.

A Maryland Court of Appeals ruling last year essentially made possession of medical marijuana in small doses subject to civil regulations. Alcohol misuse, as always, can be prosecuted under criminal laws.

“People are consuming marijuana on our highways and our sidewalks,” said Dykes, whose office is tasked with prosecuting drug offenders. “From a public safety perspective, this should not happen.”

Lewis said that, currently, someone can be pulled over speeding along the bypass while smoking marijuana in their car, but they would face only minimal punishment. A person driving the same way, but found to have an open container or be consuming alcohol in the vehicle, would face criminal charges.

“It is a criminal offense to have an open container or drink in vehicle,” Lewis said. “To have marijuana, it is a civil offense, if you have less than 10 grams.”

The Sheriff also decried the different structure regarding possible fines.

“You are issued a criminal citation for alcohol — if you don’t pay, your license is suspended,” he said. “Marijuana is a civil fine — if you don’t pay, there are no penalties at all. It’s just unfair, it’s just unfair.”

Deputy State’s Attorney Bill McDermott told council members that the odor of burnt marijuana alone no longer allows police to exercise probable cause or search someone.

“That is a gross departure from where we have always been, with respect to the odor of marijuana,” he said. “It’s not the marijuana that you find in a car, it’s the drugs and guns and things like gangs that go together. When you lose the ability to search, you lose the ability to find contraband on that person.”

McDermott stressed that such protections only exist for holders of medical marijuana cards, whose users sign a dispensary form that states they won’t consume the drug and then drive. 

“This is a parity issue. Consuming alcohol on the street or in a vehicle is violating the law — it’s a decency law. 

“Just because you possess a medical card, you shouldn’t be able to consume marijuana in public, at public street fairs, on public sidewalks, in a shopping center — or in your vehicle.”

In December, the city of Fruitland formally prohibited marijuana consumption in vehicles and public areas, making it punishable by a fine of up to $500 and possible imprisonment of up to 90 days.

The three law enforcement officials are asking the county to implement the same measure. The Wicomico County Council was expected to consider the measure further on Tuesday, but Council Administrator Laura Hurley announced more discussion with county lawyers was needed first.

Dykes said nothing in the legislation would govern medical marijuana use within a person’s home.

“From a public safety perspective,” she told council members, “I urge you to act now.”

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