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Police presence puts damper on 'weed zone' in East Baltimore, but questions remain about enforcement

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s proclamation last month that her office would stop prosecuting people for marijuana possession has done little to stop police from arresting people for it, community advocates say.

Walker Gladden and Clayton Guyton, who work for the Rose Street Community Center, wanted to highlight the confusion generated by that situation and call for better coordination among city police, prosecutors and the community on the issue.

To draw attention to their cause — and also hoping to establish a safe place to smoke marijuana — they sought to designate a “weed zone” Sunday afternoon at the corner of North Rose and East Monument streets in East Baltimore.

“The community’s caught in the middle,” Gladden said. “It’s catch-and-release. We’re caught in the middle, and something’s got to be done.”

“We want clarity,” Guyton said.

The sight of a large police contingent across the street, however, quickly put an end to any notion among the dozen or so people who showed up that lighting up a joint would go unenforced.

One woman pulled a few nuggets from her coat and began to roll them up, but walked quickly away from approaching television cameras as one of the officers crossed the street toward her.

Another person who had heard about the “weed zone” asked if that meant what it sounded like: Had the city really legalized marijuana on an East Baltimore corner?

“No,” came an emphatic reply from a man who pointed to the police across the street.

Baltimore Police Maj. Jeffrey W. Shorter attended the event and said he knew the organizers. He hoped they got their wish for a productive discussion with police and city officials.

“It’s not us-against-them,” Shorter said. “We all have the same goal: peace in the community.”

James McEachin, a chaplain with Corner Rock Ministries, said he attended the protest to make sure everyone stayed safe. Police have a duty to enforce the law, McEachin said, and the law still labels marijuana as an illegal substance. Smoking it in front of the police, he said, would be tantamount to “tempting the devil.”

“Why would they want to do that?” he asked. “It’s still illegal.”

Gladden, the Rose Street Community Center’s youth coordinator, said establishing “weed zones” would allow city officials to limit marijuana use to areas that don’t disturb children, seniors and others sensitive to the smoke.

“We’ve got to put some regulation around this process,” he said.

After Mosby’s announcement last month that she would stop prosecuting cases in which defendants are charged simply with marijuana possession, Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said arrests for marijuana possession are sometimes still the outcome in instances where officers are confronted with illegal amounts of the drug.

Christopher James, 29, of West Baltimore said he had been visiting his grandmother in the area when he happened upon the protest.

The recent push nationwide to legalize marijuana has been frustrating to watch for James, who said he had been kicked out of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore during his sophomore year and spent a year in jail in Somerset County after being caught with two ounces.

“I’ve been pulled out of cars all my life for smoking weed,” he said.

Charlie Hamlette, 39, who lives in East Baltimore, said he couldn’t understand why police would continue to arrest people for a charge they know will likely be dropped in court.

“If you’re just going to give me a walk-through” of Central Booking, he said, “why even lock me up?”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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