Baltimore’s top prosecutor said on Tuesday that her office will stop pursuing marijuana possession cases and will also move to clear the criminal records of people with prior cannabis convictions dating back to 2011.
“We need to get serious about prioritizing what actually makes us safe, and no one who is serious about public safety can honestly say that spending resources to jail people for marijuana use is a smart way to use our limited time and money,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a press release.
State's Attorney Mosby Unveils New Major Prosecution Policy https://t.co/Nm3t0JFbWf
— Baltimore SAO (@BaltimoreSAO) January 29, 2019
The office will still prosecute individuals for felony possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, but first time offenders will be referred to diversion programs instead of being incarcerated. The new policies take effect immediately, Mosby said.
The purpose of the policy changes is to allow law enforcement to prioritize serious crimes while at the same time saving money and resources that would otherwise be spent going after cannabis consumers. In making the announcement, Mosby also highlighted racial disparities in enforcement and said arresting people for possession undermines public trust in police.
In a paper detailing the policy shift, Mosby said “history demonstrates” that “the roots of the disproportionate impact of marijuana criminalization on people of color in the United States can be traced beyond the War on Drugs.”
“A sordid history of marijuana prohibition lies in ethnic and racial bigotry,” she wrote. “While racial disparities are evident when considering the manner in which marijuana laws are enforced, the problem is even more compounded when such enforcement produces no demonstrable public safety benefit.”
“[G]iven the legitimate public safety concerns that do exist in our nation’s cities, when resources are expended to address marijuana possession cases (from docketing to finger printing and general processing of those arrested to the ultimate resolution of charges), those same resources are no longer available to address significant criminal activity. This leaves those communities most affected by serious crime with no punitive, rehabilitative or public safety value gained from the prosecution of marijuana possession cases.”
While Maryland decriminalized certain marijuana offenses in 2014, hundreds are still arrested for simple possession in Baltimore. The racial disparity in those possession cases is stark. According to a recent Baltimore Fishbowl analysis of police data, 1,514 people were arrested for possession in the city from 2015 to 2017, and 96 percent of those individuals were black.
“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,” Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release cheering Mosby’s moves. “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.”
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Cases, Says Prosecutions Provide No Public Safety Value And Undermine Public Trust In Law Enforcement https://t.co/s4eMpDxKZi
— Baltimore SAO (@BaltimoreSAO) January 29, 2019
“While contemporary attitudes and public policy toward marijuana have changed dramatically in the past few years, the enforcement of marijuana laws remains grossly disproportionate in its impact on communities of color,” Mosby wrote in her report. “Moreover, prosecuting marijuana possession has not been shown to significantly improve public safety or public health outcomes in communities, and the resources saved from prosecuting such cases can be redirected to prosecuting drug kingpins and addressing other significant crimes, including crimes of violence.”
“The [Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office] understands this and, coupled with the overwhelming evidence showing that the War on Marijuana has only served to further intensify existing racial biases across our country’s criminal justice system without securing any significant net gains, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney stands ready to use her prosecutorial discretion to change how marijuana laws are enforced in Baltimore City and, in so doing, re-balance the justice system one individual, one family, at a time.”
The city attorney is also proposing state legislation that would empower prosecutors to more broadly vacate convictions. Text of the proposed bill, which was obtained by Marijuana Moment, shows that it would allow prosecutors to vacate convictions for offenses that are no longer crimes, for marijuana and paraphernalia possession and for “any other reason justifying release from the judgment, in the interest of fairness and justice.”
Read the text of Mosby’s proposed bill as well as court documents that will be used in order to vacate relevant convictions below:
Baltimore Marijuana Policy … by on Scribd
Mosby is calling on lawmakers and law enforcement officials to throw their support behind the policy changes.
“We need leaders here in Baltimore who are actively working toward a vision of safety that makes all of us more secure in our great city—that can’t happen when we’re focused on marijuana possession cases instead of solving and prosecuting more murders,” she said.
Mayor Catherine Pugh offered tempered support for the aims of the new cannabis plan in a statement, but urged state legislators to address underlying laws.
Statement on the proposed decriminalization of marijuana in the City of Baltimore. pic.twitter.com/avzVWzKFML
— Mayor Catherine Pugh (@MayorPugh50) January 29, 2019
Police officials, however, said they would continue arresting people for possessing marijuana, even if there would be no follow up by prosecutors.
“Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said in a statement.
Nonetheless, Mosby joins a growing coalition of chief prosecutors in major cities that are proactively reforming cannabis enforcement policies while lawmakers weigh broader reform measures. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, for example, district attorneys have implemented similar changes to keep low-level marijuana offenders out of the criminal justice system.