Marijuana is officially against the law in Maryland but Baltimore’s top prosecutor said on Tuesday that she would stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases within the city limits, regardless of quantity, and seek to vacate almost 5,000 convictions.
The announcement by Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore, follows a nationwide trend in which big city prosecutors are de-emphasizing marijuana prosecutions.
Baltimore has both the nation’s highest murder rate among big cities and one of the most broken relationships between its police and its citizenry. Its marijuana enforcement has been wildly disproportionate — more than 90 percent of the citations for low-level possession between 2015 and 2017 were issued to black residents, who make up about two-thirds of residents.
So for Ms. Mosby, declining to prosecute marijuana possession cases has everything to do with making the city safer.
“If you ask that mom whose son was killed where she would rather us spend our time and our attention — on solving that murder or prosecuting marijuana laws — it’s a no-brainer,” Ms. Mosby said in an interview in her office on Monday. “I don’t even think there’s a choice there.”
She also said that with a poor record of solving crime — only one in four homicides was solved last year — law enforcement needs to foster more good will. “How are we going to expect folks to want to cooperate with us,” she said, “when you’re stopping, you’re frisking, you’re arresting folks for marijuana possession?”
Ms. Mosby joins a flurry of prosecutors, including Kim Ogg in Houston, Rachael Rollins in Boston and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, who have adopted similar policies that vary in the details such as weight limits and retroactivity.
Under Ms. Mosby’s new rules, people will not be prosecuted for possessing marijuana, regardless of quantity, and will not be charged with distribution or intent to distribute just because they have a large amount in the absence of other indicators of drug dealing such as scales and baggies.
Those charged with felony distribution for the first time will be automatically referred to a diversion program designed to help them enter the job market. Successful completion of the program can result in expungement of the case.