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By Ben Kesslen
Marijuana possession will no longer be prosecuted in the city, Baltimore’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday.
“For far too long, we have sat back and watched idly as communities and families are literally destroyed by the failed policies of the war on drugs,“ Mosby told NBC News.
She added that “there is no public safety value” to prosecuting marijuana possession.
Saying that marijuana convictions disproportionately affect the city’s black community, Mosby said that her office will not process any cases of possession, regardless of a person’s prior criminal record.
“In Baltimore, the majority of citations, even after decriminalization, are issued to black people,” she told NBC News.
Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, agreed.
“Even though studies show that black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, black Marylanders are consistently arrested at higher rates for marijuana in every county,” Shelley said at a press conference Tuesday.
The Baltimore State Attorney’s Office will continue to prosecute distribution of marijuana, but only if there is “articulated evidence of intent to distribute beyond the mere fact of possession.”
Mosby said prosecuting marijuana possession is “costly and counterproductive to the limited resources we have in the city of Baltimore.”
“If you ask a mother who lost her son where she would like you to use those resources, she will tell you, ‘l want you to use those resources to find my son’s killer,’ as opposed to jailing and incarcerating people for possession of marijuana.”
The announcement drew support from experts.
“I think it’s definitely a strong step in the right direction when we think about the need to repair the harms that have been done to communities of color by the war on drugs,” Vincent Southerland, executive director at the New York University School of Law’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, told NBC News.
Baltimore’s announcement comes as 10 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and a growing number of prosecutors nationwide have announced they will no longer prosecute possession cases.
Notable in Mosby’s announcement is that her office will also be seeking to vacate almost 5,000 marijuana convictions dating back to 2011.
“Jailing people for marijuana possession is a vast and ongoing moral failure,” Mosby said during her announcement of the new policy. She explained her decision by saying that the communities affected by “unjust” marijuana policies are “still paying a price for behavior that is already legal for millions of Americans.”
“I think it’s really important that she is vacating prior marijuana convictions,” Southerland said. “This is a wrong that the criminal legal system imposed on people, so the criminal legal system should fix that harm. I think it’s important that the onus is on the institutions, not the individuals, to try to rectify the past.”
In response to Mosby’s policy change, Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said in a statement to NBC News that his department “will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state Legislature changes the law.”
Mosby told NBC News that even if Baltimore police continue to arrest people for possession of marijuana, she will “release those individuals without charges.”
The ACLU’s Shelley said the group wants the department to “take heed of this policy change.” She urged police to “stop arresting people for marijuana possession, and to focus on helping our communities become safer.”