A Maryland law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana won’t significantly lighten the enforcement workload, Montgomery County’s police chief said.
The majority of marijuana cases that the police department handles are for amounts that suggest possession with intent to distribute rather than the 10 grams or less that the General Assembly made a civil offense this week, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said.
Manger discussed the new law with the Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee Thursday.
Most cases in which someone is charged with possession of smaller amounts of marijuana come when police find the drugs after a person is stopped for another reason, Manger said.
While the new law can prevent people from having a criminal record for small amounts of marijuana, the department doesn’t intend to ignore an illegal substance, Manger said.
Even if someone is cited civilly for less than 10 grams of marijuana, police still have to determine how much the person has, he said.
The law provides for a fine of up to $100 for a civil citation. Children younger than 18 still could face juvenile court proceedings, including being referred to substance abuse or rehabilitation programs.
A person with three or more civil citations can be ordered to attend a state-approved drug treatment or education program.
Manger said the new law runs the risk of sending a message that marijuana is not harmful.
He cited arguments by advocates of legalization and decriminalization that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol.
“I’m not sure that’s a ringing endorsement,” Manger said.
Manger and other senior police department staff appeared at the Public Safety Committee’s hearing on police spending in the fiscal 2015 operating budget proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
Leggett’s budget proposal includes 21 new officers in Wheaton and the Germantown Central Business District. It adds two school resource officers, two forensic scientist positions and 44 new positions at the county’s new Animal Services and Adoption Facility in Derwood.
The patrol sector in Wheaton, slated to get the new officers, is one of the three busiest sectors in the county, Assistant Chief Darryl McSwain told the committee.
Commanders have been pulling officers from other patrols for overtime details, but that’s not a sustainable approach, McSwain said.
The area has seen significant increases in serious crimes such as assaults, robberies and residential burglaries, he said.
Meanwhile, the Germantown business district is one of the fastest-growing parts of the county, McSwain said.
The area experienced a 6 percent increase in serious crimes in 2012, he said.
Committee Chairman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said the committee would recommend support for the budget proposal when the full council considers it in the coming weeks.
The two forensic positions include a biology forensic scientist to help with analyzing DNA and a chemistry forensic scientist to help with drug cases.
The department has a backlog of about 84 cases involving DNA analysis, Assistant Chief Russ Hamill said Thursday.
Adding another biology position would let the lab handle cold cases without affecting new cases, according to a staff memorandum.
Leggett’s budget proposes adding two school resource officer positions, officers who are assigned to work in schools. Andrews said the committee would recommend adding eight such positions.
The placement lets officers develop personal relationships with students and serve as mentors, as well as be a useful resource for teachers and administrators, Manger said.
School resource officers can arrest students to maintain a safe school environment, but they tend to focus on other activities, he said.
Enforcement is “way down on their list of priorities,” he said.