Baltimore State’s Attorney Explains New Policy At Community Forum

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Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, along with community partners and local public officials, hosted a community forum to educate the public about the new Marijuana Prosecution Policy and to discuss the impact of marijuana convictions on the black community in particular, as well as to provide an update regarding the policy implementation and the State’s Attorney’s Office’s work in Annapolis.

“Court In The Community: Rethinking Marijuana Prosecutions” forum held at Baltimore City Community College on February 27, 2019 in the campus’s Fine Arts Auditorium was fashioned to yield spirited, informative exchange about the much-needed policy change drafted by Mosby.

“We learned through extensive research that prosecuting marijuana cases has no public safety value, erodes public trust and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources,” Mosby said in a statement. “For these reasons, I have announced that my office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases regardless of weight or an individual’s criminal history.”

However, the State’s Attorney’s Office will still prosecute possession of marijuana with intent to distribute if there is overwhelming evidence.

Mosby opened the evening by reiterating her policy (introduced on January 29, 2019), adding that first-time drug offenders will have the chance to be admitted to the Aim to B’More program, an alternative to incarceration for low-level felony drug offenders.

After providing a descriptive overview of her policy and presenting the State’s Attorney’s 2019 Legislative Agenda, Mosby introduced the panel: Michael Collins, director of the Office of National Affairs of The Drug Policy Alliance; Susan Francis, deputy director of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service; Sonia Kumar, staff attorney, ACLU of Maryland; Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project; Chief Deputy State’s

Attorney Michael Schatzow; and Caryn York, executive director, Job Opportunities Task Force.

The panelists, all of whom have backgrounds in social justice and community activism explained why Mosby’s new Marijuana Prosecution Policy is so important to the Baltimore community because in the past it appeared that there was “one set of laws for black residents and another set for white residents.”

The panel pointed out that the racially biased enforcement of laws and petty drug charges have led to barriers for employment, housing and education, among other opportunities.

The audience had the opportunity to participate in the discussion during the question and answer portion of the forum, which followed the panel discussion.

Other concerns raised during the community forum included public health, public safety, mental health, overdose treatment, policy reform, the job industry, cannabis business industry, racist policing and imminent marijuana legalization in Maryland.

Past forums— held on a quarterly basis over the past four years— covered topics such as domestic violence, rebounding from a criminal conviction and sexual assault. They were geared to helping the community to break down barriers of distrust and explaining the intricacies of the criminal justice system, according to Mosby.

“We wanted to really be able to ensure that people really understood what the policy was. There was some confusion in light of the fact that the police department indicated that they were still going to arrest people, but I’m not going to be prosecuting people,” Mosby said following the event. “I think it was really important for us to make that distinction and clarification for folks, as well as to understand the collateral consequences and the role that the community plays.”

More than half of the Maryland state prison population is comprised of individuals charged with nonviolent drug offenses, according to panelist Caryn York, executive director, Job Opportunities Task Force.

“I am here because we are so reliant on the criminal justice system to address drug use and possession, it’s now become a workforce challenge,” said York, explaining how communities have suffered hindrances to employment due to being over policed and underserved. “The significance [of today’s forum] is that we’re talking about these issues in a global manner, it’s not so nuanced. We’re actually talking about how we can change it and not keep things the same.”

Mosby, who assumed office in January 2015 says the primary purpose of the Court in the Community forum was to gain the trust of the community.

“One of the things that we attempt to do is that we have to rebuild the trust of the community. We rely on the community. And so when you have discriminatory enforcement of certain laws, and you have laws that are applicable to white folks that are different from black folks, all that does is exacerbate distrust,” Mosby said. “What we’re attempting to do is to say ‘we have one standard of justice in the city of Baltimore’ and if the police department are going to enforce laws discriminatorily, that’s something that we, as the State’s Attorney’s Office, will not be complicit with.”