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Seeking Relief: Expunging Eligible Cannabis Charges in Maryland’s Evolving Legal Landscape

The legal status of cannabis in Maryland has been changing rapidly in recent years. Up until 2014, Maryland had some of the toughest cannabis laws in the country. In the past, having just 10 grams could have led to jail time. 


In 2014, Maryland took an important first step by decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis. This meant that having less than 10 grams was no longer a crime with possible jail time, but instead a civil offense punishable by a fine. Still, even civil cannabis offenses could negatively impact people's lives by going on their records. 


In the same year, Maryland also legalized medical cannabis, allowing people with certain health conditions to obtain cannabis products from licensed dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation. 


In 2023, Maryland went even further by fully legalizing cannabis for recreational use by adults 21 and over. Adults can now legally possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrates, or 750 mg of edibles purchased from licensed stores. They can also grow up to 2 plants at home. Public use and driving under the influence remain illegal. 


  • Decriminalization means cannabis possession is no longer treated as a criminal offense with potential jail time. Instead, it becomes a civil offense punishable by fines rather than incarceration. This is what Maryland did in 2014 when it decriminalized less than 10 grams. 


  • Full legalization goes a step further, removing all criminal and civil penalties for possessing cannabis within specified limits. Legalization allows regulated sales and personal cultivation. This is what Maryland did in 2023 when it fully legalized up to 1.5 oz for adults 21+. 


So with decriminalization, cannabis possession is still unlawful but considered a minor offense. With full legalization, cannabis possession and use within the legal limits is allowed under state law. Both decriminalization and legalization aim to reduce penalties, but legalization provides the most comprehensive reform. 


Cannabis at the Federal Level 


Even though Maryland has legalized cannabis, it's important to understand that, at the federal level, cannabis remains illegal in the United States. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I illegal drug, alongside drugs like heroin. 


This means that cannabis possession, distribution, and sale remain crimes under federal law nationwide. However, the federal government generally lets individual states take the lead when it comes to enforcing cannabis laws. 


So, in states like Maryland that have legalized cannabis, federal law enforcement defers to state and local authorities. This means individuals and businesses can follow the state laws allowing cannabis activities without much federal interference. 


The conflict between federal and state cannabis laws is an ongoing issue across the country. But Maryland residents can be reassured that within state boundaries, local law enforcement follow the state laws that have progressive policies allowing both medical and recreational cannabis. 


Maryland has now gone from harsh prohibition to full legalization for adults in less than a decade. But many still carry old convictions from before these changes, which can make it harder to get jobs, housing, loans, education, and more. Criminal record expungement provides a chance to move forward with a clean slate.  


Please keep reading to learn more about expungement and how to seek legal assistance. 


What is expungement?  


Expungement clears your record of certain arrests, charges, or convictions so they don't show up if someone looks at your history. Each state has its own rules on what can be erased and when. In Maryland, some cannabis convictions can be expunged.  


The criteria for expungement often depends on the type of offense, the outcome of the case, and the individual's criminal history. Some states have specific waiting periods or conditions that must be met. Under Maryland’s Redeem Act, an individual convicted of misdemeanor offenses can have their record expunged in five years. Individuals convicted of non-violent felonies can request to have their record expunged in seven years.  


Those with small possession charges may qualify right away. Others have to finish their sentence first and then wait 3-5 years before they can request expungement. Even if you were just arrested or charged with cannabis possession, it's worth exploring legal help to get the process started. A list of Maryland legal resources will be included in this blog to help you navigate the process. 


What are the benefits of expungement?  


Getting an old cannabis conviction off your record has big advantages. It acts like a fresh start - your record now looks clean when it comes to housing, jobs, loans and more. 


Without that conviction, it's easier to get hired because many employers may not see it anymore during background checks. The same goes for finding a place to live - landlords often check records, too. Expungement also opens doors to education if your conviction got in the way before. And in some cases, it can help restore voting rights that may have been lost. 


The specifics depend on your situation. Talking to a lawyer can help understand exactly what expungement would unlock for you, but clearing your record of old cannabis convictions can be life-changing. 


To seek free legal help with criminal expungement in Maryland, you can contact the following organizations: 


Shore Legal Access 410.690.8128 

Harford County Bar Foundation  410.836.0123 

Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County  240.391.6370 

Homeless Persons Representation Project  410.685.6589  

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service  410.539.6800 

Allegany Law Foundation  301.722.3390 

Maryland Legal Aid  888.465.2468 

FreeState Justice  443.977.4254 

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