Baltimore’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that she would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases regardless of amount or past criminal charges on Jan. 29. Mosby also asked courts to vacate approximately 5,000 people convicted for the possession of marijuana. Maryland decriminalized possession of marijuana in quantities up to 10 grams in 2014.
Following Mosby’s announcement, however, Interim Police Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Gary Tuggle told The Baltimore Sun that his officers would continue to arrest people for marijuana possession, regardless of Mosby’s policy.
According to local journalist Brandon Soderberg, while Mosby’s announcement is a step in the right direction, there is potential for confusion because of conflicting policies in the Attorney General’s office and the BPD. In December 2018, Soderberg co-wrote an article for the Baltimore Fishbowl titled “Structural Racism and Cannabis: Black Baltimoreans still disproportionately arrested for weed after decriminalization.” The piece reveals that from 2015 to 2017, 96 percent of arrestees for cannabis possession were black.
“While it helps for sure, it created more of a gray area because there’s this tension between what the State’s Attorney’s office wants to do and what police so far have said: which is that they are still going to arrest people,” Soderberg said.
Soderberg’s article was referenced in a report released by the State’s Attorney titled, “Reforming a Broken System: Rethinking the role of Marijuana Prosecutions in Baltimore City.” The report was the basis for Mosby’s decision to stop prosecuting possession charges.
Ethan McLeod, who co-wrote the article with Soderberg for the Baltimore Fishbowl, commented on the effect of the BPD’s decision to continue pursuing possession cases.
“[Interim Police Commissioner Tuggle] said that he would not stop arresting people for possession,” McLeod said. “So I don’t know how substantive a change this will be in terms of arrests.”
Soderberg also explained that police continue to pursue possession cases because such cases give them the ability to search a suspect’s house, car or person.
“If you’re smoking cannabis or you’re in possession of it, and [police] see or they claim they see you, or they smell or they claim they smell, it allows them to search you,” he said. “Police see it as a crucial investigative tool for getting into your car, your pockets or your house. And they feel concerned or hobbled if they don’t have that.”