The top prosecutor in Baltimore is moving to dismiss pending charges against people accused of most drug crimes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In a letter to staff on Wednesday, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby listed a series of offenses that should not result in incarceration. Drug possession, attempted drug distribution, prostitution, traffic offenses and public urination are among the offenses that shouldn’t land people being bars at this point, according to Mosby’s guidance.
Putting these individuals in jail could exacerbate the public health crisis by exposing inmates to the virus, she said.
“This policy is in place for now as an attempt to save lives,” Mosby told Marijuana Moment in response to a query about whether people should be prosecuted for drug offenses in general, outside of the current public health crisis. “We will assess the policy at a later date and time when this global pandemic is over.”
For the time being, pending drug possession charges should be lifted, she said. Her memo to city prosecutors states that an “outbreak in prison or jails could potentially be catastrophic” and, therefore, now is “not the time for a piecemeal approach where we go into court and argue one by one for the release of at-risk individuals.”
“As prosecutors, we are committed to protecting the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our community, and that includes people who are currently in prison or jail,” Mosby said in a press release. “I firmly believe that we can promote public health and public safety at the same time, and that’s what these new policies will achieve.”
It’s not clear if the Baltimore Police Department will continue to make arrests for drug cases that won’t result in prosecutions under the new policy.
State's Attorney Mosby Urges Governor to Take Action on Courts, Prisons and Jails: New Decarceral guidelines announced in light of COVID-19 spread https://t.co/qoZEy7639g#coronavirus #StopTheSpread #CoronavirusBalt pic.twitter.com/1ZQdEjjYuP
— Baltimore SAO (@BaltimoreSAO) March 18, 2020
Mosby also wrote to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) imploring him to release currently incarcerated individuals over 60, those eligible for parole and prisoners who would otherwise finish their sentence in the next year.
That’s in addition to a statement she and 30 other prosecutors from across the country signed, imploring officials to take steps to reduce the incarcerated population to mitigate the COVID-19 spread.
Mosby, who participated in a tour of Portugal with numerous prosecutors to learn about the country’s decriminalization policy, has been proactive about pushing drug reform in her office. She announced last year that city prosecutors should no longer process marijuana possession cases and moved to clear the criminal records of people with prior cannabis convictions.
The top Baltimore cop prosecutor also testified at a first-ever congressional hearing on ending marijuana prohibition last year, emphasizing the need for federal policy change.
Statewide, the Maryland legislature approved a bill on Tuesday to prevent almost 200,000 prior cannabis convictions from being viewed on a public database.
That comes one week after the House of Delegates voted to expand the state’s current marijuana decriminalization policy by increasing the possession threshold from 10 grams to one ounce. That legislation is sponsored by Mosby’s husband, Del. Nick Mosby (D).
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak is having wide-ranging impacts on drug policy developments across the country.
The marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is imploring governors to ensure that dispensaries remain open for patients, among other requests.
And while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has insisted that marijuana legalization should be accomplished through the budget, advocates have stated that the current health crisis will likely impact those efforts.