Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby holds a Court in the Community event on Rethinking Marijuana Prosecutions on Wednesday night at Baltimore City Community College. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)
Prosecutors at the Baltimore jail have begun releasing anyone brought in by police for marijuana possession without charges, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said.
Those arrested are being released quickly, she said, usually without spending the night in jail. They go home without the blemish of a criminal record.
Mosby led a panel discussion Wednesday night about her new policy to stop prosecuting such cases in Baltimore. In a wide-ranging discussion, she said police have disproportionately arrested African-Americans in West Baltimore for pot.
“They’re focusing on Tyrone in West Baltimore and not Tommy in Canton,” Mosby told the crowd. “That in and of itself is a problem.”
An open letter signed by 14 local advocacy groups is urging Mayor Catherine Pugh to clarify Baltimore’s inconsistent enforcement of cannabis laws by directing the new police commissioner to stop arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses.
Whether her policy brings change in the streets remains to be seen. State lawmakers and city police already have been relaxing enforcement. Mosby’s office says it dropped 88 percent of possession cases since 2014.
That same year, state legislators decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams. Now, marijuana possession brings only a fine. Baltimore police said they were arresting about one person a day for possession.
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Police have said they won’t change their practices. For years, commanders have shifted focus from drug users to violent criminals. The few marijuana arrests are incidental to their work to suppress street violence, police say.
Mosby, however, said any marijuana possession arrests drain precious resources. In one case, police book and fingerprint the suspect. Prosecutors watch the officer’s body camera video. The lab tests the drugs. The attorneys prepare for trial and pick a jury. The officer comes to testify.
Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said Thursday that arrests for marijuana possession are never the focus of police patrols in the city, but are sometimes — and will continue to be — the outcome in instances where officers are confronted with illegal amounts of the drug.
The new marijuana policy aligns Mosby with some of the most progressive prosecutors in the country. Last February, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner told his prosecutors to reject charges of marijuana possession regardless of weight. Last July, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that he would also stop prosecuting marijuana cases.
Mosby has promised to continue prosecuting everyone suspected of selling marijuana. Her office will look for evidence of drug dealing: baggies, ledgers, scales.
In Annapolis, State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch have been considering legalizing marijuana for adult use and taxing it as a way to help pay for public schools.