Penalties for Drug Crimes Within School Zones

It is no secret that the United States has a prison problem. Prisons far too full, and the government spends no small amount of money housing prisoners. Thanks to the failed “War on Drugs,” there are people serving sentences of ten, twenty, even up to thirty years in prison for non-violent crimes.

For many, these long sentences are the result of prior arrests and convictions (mandatory sentencing for the so-called “three strikes” rules; others for enhancements. For example, a person who carries a pocket knife and is arrested for selling drugs may also face charges for being armed with a dangerous weapon. One such enhancement for drug crimes involves school zones. A person caught using, dealing, or possessing drugs in a school zone may face significantly higher penalties.

A recent story out of Tennessee illustrates how pervasive this issue is. Twenty years ago, a man named Lionel Lindsey Jr. “twice sold 2 grams of cocaine — about the equivalent of a sugar packet — to a woman in northeast Tennessee for $300 each.” While both the possession and sale of cocaine is illegal, because Lindsey was only 470 feet away from school when he committed the transaction, he “was sentenced to more than 32 years in prison without the chance of parole. He’s eligible for release in 2034. He’ll be 62.”

Lindsey’s story is not unique to him or his home state – all 50 states have some designation for drug-free school zones – and in a lot of places, it has only gotten worse with the onset of the opioid crisis.

What are Maryland’s laws regarding drug-free school zones?

In Maryland, the law says “A county board may adopt regulations requiring the posting of signs designating the areas within 1,000 feet of public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools as ‘drug–free school zones.’” As you can see, there is no state law that mandates school zones.

Once a County designates an area as a school zone, however, the laws are very clear. Per Maryland Criminal Law Code Annotated § 5-627:

A person may not manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance in violation of § 5–602 of this subtitle or conspire to commit any of these crimes in, on, or within 1,000 feet of real property owned by or leased to an elementary school, secondary school, or county board and used for elementary or secondary education.

What penalties do you face for a drug crime in a school zone?

School zones take already harsh penalties and make them exponentially more severe. For example, Possession with intent to distribute heroin is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of $15,000. It is a serious charge. If you are charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin in a school zone, it is up to 20 years in prison and/or $20,000 in fines, potentially in conjunction with the original charge. The only silver lining is that all convictions must run concurrently, so you cannot serve 35 consecutive years in prison for these charges.

If you are thinking, “Well, that’s heroin. It can’t possibly be the same for marijuana,” you would be wrong. Possession with intent to distribute less than 50lbs of marijuana can lead to 5 years in prison and/or $15,000 in fines, but the penalty for the school zone is the same. So you could serve 20 years in prison and pay $20,000 in fines whether you have half a pound (about 227 grams) as you would if you had 49.99lbs of marijuana on you.

How much prison time are people serving for drug crimes?

Ever since the War on Drugs was declared in the 1980s, the number of incarcerated people in the nation has increased tenfold with only 40,900 incarcerated in 1980 to 430,926 in 2019. Not only are more people being jailed these days, but the harsher sentencing for drug crimes has people staying in prison for longer spans of time. According to The Sentencing Project:

Furthermore, harsh sentencing laws such as mandatory minimums keep many people convicted of drug offenses in prison for longer periods of time: in 1986, people released after serving time for a federal drug offense had spent an average of 22 months in prison. By 2004, people convicted on federal drug offenses were expected to serve almost three times that length: 62 months in prison.

At the federal level, people incarcerated on a drug conviction make up nearly half the prison population. At the state level, the number of people in prison for drug offenses has increased nine-fold since 1980….

This is why if you are facing drug charges related to a school zone, you should immediately seek legal counsel. Along with prison time and fines, a felony drug conviction can cost you your home, your job, your professional license, your security clearance, and certain Constitutional rights. Matching the punishment to the severity of the crime is what is just, and we will fight to protect your rights under the law. If you were arrested for a drug charge, contact Carey Law Office in Bowie, Crofton, or Owings right away so that we can help you fight for a fair and equitable trial. Call us at 301-464-2500 or use our contact form to set up a consultation now. We also serve Calvert County.