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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Blacks arrested nearly twice as much as whites for pot in Harford

Blacks are almost two times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Harford County than whites, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Maryland has the highest arrest rates for marijuana of any state across the country, according the ACLU study. Although blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates, blacks are arrested at higher rates in every county in Maryland, according to the study.

"The war on drugs has failed," said Sara Love, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland. "Marijuana has become a pretext to criminalizing communities of color."

According to the ACLU of Maryland, blacks make up only 13 percent of the population in Harford County, but 23 percent of all arrests.

Love said tougher policing practices in black communities has become a contributing factor to the disparity in marijuana related arrests. She said while law enforcement agencies claim that community leaders in crime ridden areas ask for heightened police presence, those pleas involve violent offenders, not recreational marijuana users.

"Police have to take a serious look at the way they are policing across the country," Love said. "Violent crimes go unsolved, yet [police] make massive numbers of marijuana arrests. These people are not committing violent crimes."

Statistics from the ACLU of Maryland highlight marijuana possession arrests with the drug charge as the primary offense and not combined with any other violent offense, such as murder, rape or robbery.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office was not prepared to address the marijuana issue as of Tuesday evening, spokesman Edward Hopkins said. He explained, that Sheriff Jesse Bane would need to see the ACLU study in order to address issues such as "arrest process and procedures."

Jansen Robinson, chairman of the Edgewood Community Council, which covers a predominantly black area, said most of the crime reported in his community is drug related, but those crimes are down compared to other areas of the county, including Bel Air.

"Any amount of crime is too much for a community," Robinson said. "But, we need legislatures that realize that tough tactics are a part of a comprehensive program to deal with the drug issue, but it's not the program."

Robinson said when a young person is arrested for a minor offense like marijuana possession it "opens a revolving door" to the criminal justice system.

"When you apply for a job they look at your arrest records," Robinson said. "If you can't get a job because of a minor marijuana arrest, you'll go back on the street and they commit more crimes to survive."

Love, of the ACLU, said the solution to Harford's drug problem is to move away from criminal based policy and to instead focus on health based policy.

"Let's take marijuana from the criminal underground," Love said. "Regulate it and make it harder for our kids to get it. Drug dealers don't card."

Del. Mary-Dulany James said the strict policing of minor amounts of marijuana is causing an overcrowding of jails. She said addiction issues, mental health problems and propensity to commit crime are all co-occurring issues.

"This whole movement lets get tough on crime has been ineffective," James, a Democrat who represents the southern half of the county, said. "We aren't dealing with the addiction and metal health issues."

James suggests for more polices and legislation that provide alternative drug treatment options. She said the evident racial disparity makes the situation "even more alarming."

State Del. Patrick McDonough said there is a trend in America to reduce marijuana from a serious and dangerous drug. He said this trend goes against federal laws set in place.

"An agenda has been set to lessen the charges and impact marijuana has on our society," McDonough, a Republican whose district includes western Harford, said. "The President has not been imposing federal law. The federal attorney general has been reducing sentencing procedures on marijuana."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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