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Penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession to shrink

Penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Maryland — less than 10 grams — will drop in October, when a new law goes into effect reducing the maximum prison term to 90 days from one year and cutting the potential fine in half, to $500 from $1000.

Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein backed the bill, which was signed into law Wednesday, as a way to reduce the number of cases clogging the city's circuit courts.

"To continue making Baltimore safer, we must focus our limited resources on the strategic investigation and aggressive prosecution of violent offenders," Bernstein said in a statement.

Defendants are entitled to circuit court jury trials if their charges are punishable by more than 90 days in prison. And many of those arrested for pot possession request them, believing that the relatively insignificant cases are likely to be dropped because prosecutors can't spare the time to pursue them, attorneys have said. The new law will keep those misdemeanor cases in district court, where a judge will preside over them.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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