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Marijuana possession will no longer be prosecuted in Baltimore

Marijuana possession will no longer be prosecuted in Baltimore, City State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday.

“No one who is serious about public safety can honestly say that spending resources to jail people for marijuana use is a smart way to use our limited time and money,” Mosby said in her announcement.

Citing the way marijuana convictions disproportionately affect the city’s black community, Mosby said that her office will not process any marijuana possessions cases, regardless of a person’s prior criminal records. The 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.”

“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 in Maryland,” Dana Vickers Shelley, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland, said at Tuesday’s press conference.

“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 New York University Law’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, told NBC News.

The 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 marijuana possession.

Notable in Mosby’s announcement is that the 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. 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.”

During Tuesday’s announcement, Mosby also said she believes marijuana possession convictions undermine public trust in law enforcement, saying "we spend resources on things like marijuana and simultaneously fail to solve and successfully prosecute homicides.”

As the public learns more about State Attorney's new policies, Southerland said he wonders how the city's police and the courts will adapt to the new policy. "If an individual is under some kind of supervision, like parole, and that person needs to be drug tested, what will happen if the drug test shows they used marijuana? Would that now count as a violation of the terms of their supervision?"

Shelley said the ACLU of Maryland urges the Baltimore Police Department to “take heed of this policy change." Shelley wants the Baltimore PD to "stop arresting people for marijuana possession, and to focus on helping our communities become safer.”

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