Marijuana possession cases, regardless of quantity or a person’s criminal record, will no longer be prosecuted in Baltimore, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday.
In a statement released by her office, Mosby said her staff will stop prosecuting the cases because they have no public safety value, they disproportionately affect communities of color and erode public trust. She also said they are costly and a counterproductive use of limited resources.
“We need to get serious about prioritizing what actually makes us safe,” said Mosby, “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.”
In the announcement, she said her office will continue to prosecute distribution of marijuana cases as long as there is sufficient evidence of intent to distribute. Anyone charged for the first time with felony possession with intent to distribute or with felony distribution will be referred to a diversion program.
Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use, but in Maryland only medical use of marijuana is legal. In 2014, legislation was approved in Maryland to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Mosby stressed that resources used to jail people for marijuana possession will be used instead for prosecuting homicides.
“Ask any mother who has lost a son to gun violence whether she wants us to spend more time solving and prosecuting her son’s killer or to spend time on marijuana possession,” Mosby said. “It’s not a close question.”
She is also seeking to vacate 5,000 marijuana convictions dating back to 2011. Baltimore joins a growing list of cities nationwide that have pardoned marijuana convictions. Seattle announced last year that it will vacate convictions from 1996 to 2010 for misdemeanor marijuana possession, saying they disproportionally affected people of color.
“Communities are still sentenced under these unjust policies, still paying a price for behavior that is already legal for millions of Americans,” Mosby said. “That’s why I’m moving to vacate these cases.”
As of July 2017, the population of Baltimore was more than 600,000 and about 62% African-American, according to US Census Bureau data.
“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.”
It is unclear how this will unfold in the city of Baltimore, because police say officers will continue to arrest those in possession of marijuana.
“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.