Tim Prudente, Baltimore Sun, January 30, 2019
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday her office would cease prosecuting people for possessing marijuana regardless of the quantity or the person’s criminal history.
Calling the move monumental for justice in Baltimore, Mosby also requested the courts vacate convictions in nearly 5,000 cases of marijuana possession.
“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.’”
Mosby follows district attorneys in Manhattan and Philadelphia who have scaled back or outright ended marijuana prosecutions. Maryland lawmakers decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014.
But she also stood alone, politically: No police and no other city officials joined her at the announcement.
Hours later, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her support for what “Mosby is attempting to address, namely the unnecessary criminalization of those who possess marijuana merely for personal use.
“But at the same time, we also need to understand that those who deal illegal substances fuel criminality in our neighborhoods which leads to violence.”
Mosby aims to formalize marijuana policies already in practice. A report released Tuesday by her office shows city prosecutors dropped 88 percent of marijuana possession cases in Baltimore District Court since 2014 — 1,001 cases.
Still, convictions have saddled thousands in Baltimore with criminal records and frustrated their job searches, Mosby said. The marijuana arrests have disproportionately affected minority neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Nationwide, African-Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. The ratio jumps to six times more likely in Baltimore, prosecutors wrote in the report.
Such arrests squander scarce police resources, Mosby said, noting 343 people were killed in Baltimore in 2017. Police closed nearly one-third of those cases. Last year, 309 people were killed and police closed closer to one-quarter.
Mosby said Tuesday night that she had informed interim police commissioner Gary Tuggle of her plan.
Tuggle, a former agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said his officers wouldn’t quit arresting people for possessing marijuana.
“Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession,” he said in a statement.
Police leaders have long said they are focused on violent crime and marijuana arrests aren’t a priority. But officers routinely use marijuana as reason to search the pockets or car of someone suspected in more serious crimes.
Additionally, prosecutors had already been dropping many marijuana cases in Baltimore.
“Baltimore stopped prosecuting marijuana cases years ago,” said Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general of Maryland who lost to Mosby in the November election. “This announcement is a good way to grab a headline but changes nothing.”
Mosby has pledged to continue to prosecute anyone suspected of selling marijuana. She said her office would take cases to court when police find evidence of drug sales, such as baggies and scales.
“There has to be something beyond mere possession,” she said.
Neighborhood activist Dayvon Love, of the group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said marijuana arrests have broken up many families in Baltimore.
“It was not a war on drugs, but a war on black people, a war on brown people, a war on poor people,” he said. “Think about all the generations that have been lost.”