Lawmakers in Maryland legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2013, but the recreational use of the drug remains forbidden. Civil rights groups say that police disproportionately target black neighborhoods when enforcing the nation’s narcotics laws, and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby cited those arguments on Jan. 29 when she announced that she would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases.
Mosby also said in a press conference that she planned to vacate the convictions of thousands of individuals prosecuted for possessing marijuana since 2011. She pointed out that these individuals were being punished for activities that are now legal in the District of Columbia and 10 states. While legislators have not moved to follow the example set by these states, they did decriminalize possessing less than 10 grams of the drug in 2014.
The Baltimore Police Department was quick to respond to Mosby’s announcement. In a statement released just hours after the prosecutor spoke, interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said that officers would continue to enforce Maryland law by apprehending individuals for marijuana possession. Tuggle added that the policy would remain in effect until the law was changed. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh then weighed in with qualified support for Mosby’s position.
Mosby made the same kind of arguments in her press conference as criminal defense attorneys often make during plea negotiations. The penalties for even minor drug charges can be severe, and even those who are only ordered to pay a fine can find renting an apartment or securing gainful employment difficult. Defense attorneys might point factors like this out to prosecutors on behalf of individuals who would be facing no sanctions whatsoever if they lived in a different part of the country.
Source: The Baltimore Patch, Baltimore Not Prosecuting Marijuana Possession Charges: Mosby, Elizabeth Janney, Jan. 29, 2019