Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s surprise announcement Tuesday that her office will no longer be prosecuting marijuana possession cases received widespread approval, particularly from advocates of marijuana’s legalization.
Tricia Christensen, Legislative Advocacy Coordinator with Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, called the announcement “a first step to heal our community after decades of harsh drug war propaganda.”
However, the acclaim was not universal. In a statement, acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said officers will continue to make arrests for illegal pot possession “unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession."
One of Mosby’s former political rivals said her announcement rang hollow.
“Baltimore stopped prosecuting marijuana cases years ago,” said Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general of Maryland who lost to Mosby in the November election. “This announcement is a good way to grab a headline but changes nothing.”
Ivan J. Bates, who, along with Vignarajah, challenged Mosby in the most recent primary election, said her unilateral decision would only create greater chaos within an already overstretched legal system.
Towing something of a middle ground, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement that while she applauded “what … Mosby is attempting to address, she called on lawmakers to collaborate with Mosby and the police department to come up with a “unified” and “consistent” approach.
A few observers urged Maryland’s General Assembly to do more to end marijuana arrests. Christensen, speaking on behalf of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, called on Mosby to support legislation that would decriminalize all drug possession.
Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement: “We hope the rest of the state will follow the lead of State’s Attorney Mosby and strongly consider a more sensible and evenhanded approach to marijuana. The General Assembly can and should put a stop to marijuana possession arrests and their harmful fallout by ending marijuana prohibition once and for all.”
Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender applauded the decision in a tweet and pledged to work with the State’s Attorney’s office to vacate convictions and expunge records of those charged.
Former Baltimore mayor and state’s attorney Kurt Schmoke said Mosby can’t succeed without the help of the police department.
“In order for her policy to be effective, she has to coordinate it with local law enforcement,” said Schmoke, now president of the University of Baltimore.
One individual on Twitter pointed out that arrests would continue since marijuana remains illegal.
Ben Curren, CEO of Green Bits, a tech platform used by cannabis dispensaries, said: “There is a cruel irony that the people hit hardest by the war on drugs are often hit a second time by not being able to get a job in the legal cannabis industry. Ms. Mosby’s decision is a great step forward for the city of Baltimore—and for the state of cannabis in this country.”
Like others, CNN commentator Keith Boykin praised the announcement while calling for even more action.
A few left-leaning critics on Twitter said the seemingly progressive move was tempered by Mosby’s own history while in office, which included the controversial prosecution of Keith Davis Jr., tried three times for the killing of a Pimlico Race Course security guard.