Notes from Annapolis

October 1 marks the date when most of the laws passed by the General Assembly during the spring session go into effect. A number of bills of importance to families will become effective on October 1.
In the realm of domestic violence, the most important change in the law relates to the standard of proof required to obtain a final protective order. As of October 1, petitioners are required to prove abuse only by a preponderance of the evidence and not by the significantly higher standard of clear and convincing evidence. This adjustment may make it easier for judges to grant petitioners relief from abuse, particularly in situations when the petitioner is required to prove that abuse has placed a person eligible for relief in fear of imminent serious bodily harm.
A parent who is in arrears greater than $150 in child support payments and who gambles may be surprised to learn that as of October 1, the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency can intercept a prize won at a video lottery facility. The prize will be applied to pay the child support owed.
And while this list is by no means exhaustive (Governor O’Malley signed approximately 200 bills that amend our Code following the adjournment of the 2014 session of the General Assembly), we will see a major change in Maryland’s treatment of possession of marijuana. Maryland will join 17 other states to “decriminalize” marijuana. Under current law, the penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is a fine up to $500, up to 90 days in jail, or both. The new law replaces the criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams with a civil fine – similar to a traffic ticket – of up to $100 for a first offense and has no jail time. For minors under the age of 21, the penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is similar to the consequences for underage drinking of alcohol. Interestingly, the law does not change the penalty for possession of drug paraphernalia. This issue may be on the agenda for the 2015 session of the General Assembly, along with efforts to legalize marijuana in the same way that alcohol is allowable.