Maryland fourth in nation for marijuana possession arrests

Maryland arrests people for marijuana possession at one of the highest rates in the country and spends heavily on those arrests, according to a new study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The state had the fourth-highest rate of marijuana possession arrests, the campaign group reported Tuesday. And Maryland spent more than $106 million enforcing its possession laws in 2010, according to the report. Per person, only the District of Columbia and New York spent more.

The group's findings are summarized in these charts.

The study also found that African-Americans were almost three times as likely to be arrested for possession as white people in Maryland. The statewide number is below the national average, but in Baltimore black people were more than five times as likely to be arrested as whites, which is above average, according to the report.

Baltimore police have said they do not target specific racial or ethnic groups for marijuana arrests.

The Baltimore Sun recently reported on State's Attorneys in Maryland who are looking at alternatives to full-bore prosecutions of marijuana cases. They aim to divert first, second and, in some cases, third-time offenders into programs that let them avoid getting a criminal record.

President Obama's drug czar also recently said at an event in Baltimore that the administration supports sending more people into treatment.

But some state legislators have hoped to go further, pushing bills in the last General Assembly session to legalize or remove the criminal penalties for marijuana possession. The decriminalization measure, which the ACLU supported, passed the Senate but died in the House.

"With this momentum and the new report, the ACLU of Maryland will continue advocating for reform of Maryland's racially biased and aggressive penalization of marijuana possession, which has torn communities apart, not improved public safety, not eradicated use, and has been a colossal waste of money," Sara Love, public policy director of the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement.

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