Some of the high-profile new laws approved in Maryland this year took effect Wednesday. Among the most prominent, marijuana decriminalization has gone into effect -- but that doesn't mean it's been legalized.
Read on to understand the new law, as well as others that could make an impact on life in Maryland.
Marijuana is no longer a criminal offense, but it's still not legal. But the change means that those caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana will receive a civil citation similar to a traffic ticket, instead of being charged with a criminal offense.
Civil penalties include $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense. Three-time offenders and teenage offenders will be required to attend a drug education program.
However, Maryland lawmakers did not decriminalize paraphernalia, which is causing concern for those with the Marijuana Policy Project.
"So we're worried that law enforcement can circumvent the intent of the law by going after people who have either a pipe, or papers for rolling joints on them, along with the marijuana," a spokesperson told News4's Chris Gordon.
But Montgomery's top prosecutor told Gordon that the county will not be prosecuting for possession of paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana.
"Because I think it makes no sense to criminally prosecute [for] paraphernalia if you're not going to prosecute [for marijuana].... We've urged the police not to charge [people for] the paraphernalia," he said.
For now, that policy only applies to Montgomery County, but Maryland lawmakers are expected to decriminalize possession of paraphernalia next year.
NEW RULES FOR DRIVERS
Drivers will be required to move into an open lane away from tow trucks attending to roadside emergencies, or to slow to a reasonable and prudent spend that is safe, just as they are required to do when approaching police and other emergency vehicles stopped on the road side.
A separate law creates added penalties for drivers who cause accidents resulting in death or serious injury while text messaging or talking on hand-held cell phones. Offenders will face penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of $5,000.
In Montgomery County, minimum wage increased from $7.25 to $8.40 per hour, and will gradually climb to $11.50 over the next four years.
AMAZON SALES TAX
Maryland shoppers will be required to pay six percent sales tax for their purchases on Amazon.com. That would be about $3 on a $49.99 purchase. The new tax is expected to bring in about $50 millon in revenue.
Amazon is now charging the tax because it's opening a new warehouse in Baltimore. Since it will have a physical presence in the state, it's required to charge sales tax there.
Transgender residents will have protection against discrimination on matters relating to housing, employment, credit and use of public accommodations. The law defines gender identity as the gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior of a person, regardless of the person's assigned sex at birth.
The law says gender identity is demonstrated as "consistent and uniform assertion of the person's gender identity or any other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held as part of the person's core identity."
People who commit domestic violence in front of a child could face an added penalty of up to five years in prison. The standard of evidence for obtaining a final protective order will be reduced from "clear and convincing" to "a preponderance of the evidence."
Maryland had been the only state in the nation that used the higher standard of proof for final protective orders. Also, second-degree assault will be added to crimes for which a person can obtain a final protective order.
Several new laws aim to address prison security after 44 people, including 27 corrections officers, were indicted in a contraband- and drug-smuggling scheme involving a gang inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. One raises the maximum penalty for smuggling in a cellphone to five years imprisonment and a $3,000 fine.
Another lets prison authorities immediately suspend guards without pay, if they're caught smuggling in certain contraband, including cellphones, weapons or drugs.
Other laws apply to new staff members. The state will now have the right to require lie detector tests for job applicants.