Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced on Tuesday that marijuana possession cases in the city will no longer be prosecuted. The city’s lead prosecutor also said that she plans to vacate as many as 5,000 previous convictions, according to media reports. Mosby said that the change in policy is in part a reaction to the racial disparity prevalent in the prosecution of cannabis offenses.
“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.
Under the new policy, Mosby’s office will not prosecute marijuana possession cases, regardless of the quantity, unless there is evidence of intent to distribute. Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, applauded Mosby’s decision 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.”
Naugle also called for cannabis policy reform for all of Maryland.
“We hope the rest of the state will follow the lead of State’s Attorney Mosby and strongly consider a more sensible and evenhanded approach to marijuana,” she said. “The General Assembly can and should put a stop to marijuana possession arrests and their harmful fallout by ending marijuana prohibition once and for all. It is time for Maryland to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and older and expunge criminal records for past possession convictions. The sooner lawmakers act, the sooner these needless possession arrests will come to an end, not just in Baltimore City but across the state.”
Higher Priorities for Law Enforcement
Mosby told the New York Times that the new policy is intended to make Baltimore, which has the highest murder rate among large cities in the U.S., a safer place to live.
“If you ask that mom whose son was killed where she would rather us spend our time and our attention — on solving that murder or prosecuting marijuana laws — it’s a no-brainer,” Mosby said. “I don’t even think there’s a choice there.”
Mosby believes that police will be able to solve more crimes including murder because the policy will foster better relations between law enforcement and the public.
“How are we going to expect folks to want to cooperate with us,” she said, “when you’re stopping, you’re frisking, you’re arresting folks for marijuana possession?”