Baltimore's top prosecutor seeks to right "extraordinary wrong" with pot convictions petition

By Brandi Kellam

/ CBS News

Baltimore to stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases

With a majority of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana and more states moving toward legalizing medicinal or adult-use programs, the need to decide how prosecutors handle marijuana-related offenses has become a growing issue. Last week, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases.

"Prosecuting these cases has no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources," Mosby's office said in a press release.

Maryland lawmakers decriminalized marijuana possession in 2014, meaning that those found with 10 grams or less would be issued a citation rather than face arrest. Mosby's petition goes further by ending the prosecution of marijuana possession-related offenses regardless of weight.

Her office is also seeking to vacate prior marijuana convictions dating back to 2011. Mosby filed a legal petition last Friday that, if granted, could throw out nearly 5,000 marijuana convictions.

"What we are doing is attempting to right an extraordinary wrong," Mosby said in an interview Thursday with CBSN.

"We've reviewed thousands of cases that are a direct result of the corrupt police officers that were part of the Baltimore Police Department that were essentially planting drugs and guns on individuals, and what we've asked is that in the best interest and the pursuit of justice and equality, that these convictions be vacated," she said.

Mosby's actions follow a study conducted by her office that highlighted reports showing there is no link to marijuana possession and violent crime. She said an "exorbitant amount of resources" go into marijuana possession cases, and that she would like to instead utilize resources to go after violent individuals.

"We've had a mass increase in the number of homicides … in the past few years," she said. "I'm not going to utilize my resources, from my perspective, and my manpower for something that we're moving towards legalization."

Mosby is calling on the Baltimore Police Department for support. But she intends to push forward with her policy even if possession laws are still enforced.

"If the Commissioner wants to utilize his manpower to be able to do that, I've indicated that I will simply never be complicit in the discriminatory enforcement of laws against poor black and brown people and I will merely release individuals, if they are arrested. I will release them without charges," she said.

Mosby pointed to an ACLU report on correlations between race and marijuana arrest that found that between 2001 and 2010, "on average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates."

Collaboration between the Baltimore State Attorney's office and police department has been marked by friction in recent years. During Mosby's first year in office, she faced criticism when she charged six police officers with crimes related to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who died while in police custody.

The Baltimore Police Department has also been involved in recent high-profile scandals. Last year, two former officers were convicted of racketeering, robbery and conspiracy in a corruption scandal.

"Unfortunately, through the past year, we've had to face one of the largest police corruption scandals in the history of the country," Mosby said.

First published on February 8, 2019

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