A request by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to dismiss nearly 5,000 past cases of marijuana possession was denied by judges on Friday, according to online court records. On Monday, a spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed that the petition had been rejected by the judges.
Prosecutors had filed paperwork to dismiss cases going back to 2011, covering approximately 1,000 convictions in Circuit Court and almost 3,800 more in District Court. The judges’ reasoning for rejecting the requests is not yet clear.
Prosecutorial Policy Changed
In January, Mosby announced that her office would end the prosecution of marijuana possession cases in Baltimore and would seek the dismissal of up to 5,000 convictions already on the books. Mosby cited the racial disparity in the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws as her reason for the change in policy.
“The statistics are damning when it comes to the disproportionate impact that the ‘War on Drugs’ has had on communities of color,” Mosby said. “As your state’s attorney, I pledged to institute change and I refuse to stand by and be a facilitator of injustice and inequity when it is clear that we can be so much smarter and do so much more on behalf of the people we serve.”
More than 90 percent of the citations for minor marijuana possession were issued to black people in Baltimore between 2015 and 2017.
“Even though white and black residents use marijuana at the same rate, the laws disproportionately impact communities of color,” Mosby added.
Collateral Damage of Pot Convictions
Olivia Naugle, a legislative coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, applauded Mosby’s decision to in a press release.
“Decades of arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession did not make Baltimore any safer, and it had a dramatically disproportionate impact on communities of color,” Naugle said. “Countless individuals have been branded with convictions and subjected to life-altering collateral consequences that cause them more harm than marijuana ever could. Unfortunately, this has continued to be the case in Baltimore City even after decriminalization in 2014.”
Mosby agreed that convictions for marijuana possession follow offenders for life, saying that they make finding a job and qualifying for social programs such as housing and educational benefits difficult if not impossible.
“When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” Mosby said, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”
“No one thinks spending resources to jail people for marijuana is a good use of our limited time and resources,” she added.
Mosby released the following statement on Monday:
“The role that courts play in our society is to be a place of last resort for people who have been wronged. I am deeply disappointed that this ruling did not afford us any opportunity to present legal arguments and essentially eliminated the court from being a safe harbor for those that were harmed by the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws in this city.”
“My office is considering our options and will pursue all avenues to ensure we continue standing up for the people of Baltimore,” she added.
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