BALTIMORE (WBFF)-- Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday that she will no longer prosecute marijuana possession in Baltimore City because "prosecuting these cases has no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources."
“We need to get serious about prioritizing what actually makes us safe,” said Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn 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.”
The office will implement the following common changes to their marijuana policy:
Mosby will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, regardless of weight or a person’s prior criminal record.
Mosby will prosecute distribution of marijuana as long as there is articulated evidence of intent to distribute beyond the mere fact of possession.
Further, all people charged for the first time with felony possession with intent to distribute or with felony distribution will be referred to diversion.
Baltimore police, meanwhile, said they will continue to make arrests unless the law is actually changed.
"Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession," said interim police commissioner Gary Tuggle in a statement.
Mayor Catherine Pugh was more ambivalent, saying she supports Mosby's attempt but urges the legislature to "look carefully at these issues and at best practices underway elsewhere."
All Mosby is seeking to vacate nearly 5,000 prior marijuana convictions dating back to 2011.
Mosby will also propose legislation that would give prosecutors the power to vacate convictions in the interest of justice.
Mosby’s policy shift is detailed in a document produced by her office called, “Reforming A Broken System: Rethinking The Role Of Marijuana Prosecutions In Baltimore City.”
Mosby highlighted the need to undo the harm of previous convictions, and that it is not enough to simply change policy going forward: “Jailing people for marijuana possession is a vast and ongoing moral failure,” Mosby said about her new policy. In explaining her decision to also look at past convictions, Mosby added: “Communities are still sentenced under these unjust policies, still paying a price for behavior that is already legal for millions of Americans. That’s why I’m moving to vacate these cases.”
Mosby said that jailing people for marijuana possession also squanders limited resources that should be used for policing and prosecuting offenses like homicide that are closely tied to public safety. For the last three years, Baltimore, a city with more than 600,000 residents, has seen almost one killing per day. Meanwhile, during that same period, homicide arrest rates have plummeted, hovering around 30 and 40 percent, far below the already low national average of 60 percent. “Law enforcement pays a steep cost in the form of public trust when we spend resources on things like marijuana and simultaneously fail to solve and successfully prosecute homicides,” Mosby said. “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. It’s not a close question.”
In a release, her office said, though white and Black residents use marijuana at roughly the same rates, marijuana laws have been and continue to be disproportionately enforced against people of color. In Baltimore’s Western District, which is not only (95%) Black but disproportionately impoverished and represents only one out of nine police Districts, they received 42% of all civil citations issued in the city.
“The statistics are damning when it comes to the disproportionate impact that the “War on Drugs” has had on communities of color. 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.”
Mosby joins a growing group of prosecutors nationwide who are no longer prosecuting low-level marijuana cases and are also, in some jurisdictions, expunging old marijuana convictions. More than half of the states in the nation have now legalized marijuana in some form. Two in three Americans now support legalization. In recent polling, voters in Maryland also say that marijuana should be legalized for adult use (voters approved medical marijuana in 2014).
Mosby is also calling on Baltimore’s law enforcement community to join her in support of her vision of safety for the city. “I’m calling on my partners in law enforcement to join my office in this effort,” Mosby said. “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.”
The announcement was made alongside the Center for Urban Families, the Marijuana Police Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and other community leaders.