The Slatest

Baltimore Will Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Possession Cases, as State’s Attorney Moves to Vacate Thousands of Prior Convictions

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby walking through the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in Baltimore where Freddie Gray was arrested in 2016.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby walking through the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in Baltimore where Freddie Gray was arrested in 2016. Larry French/Getty Images

Baltimore’s top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday the state’s attorney’s office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases within the city limits and will seek to vacate nearly 5,000 prior marijuana convictions handed down over the past eight years. Mosby said her office will focus its efforts elsewhere “because 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,” the state’s attorney’s office said in a release Tuesday.

Neither the weight of the marijuana being carried nor an individual’s prior criminal record will impact the non-prosecution policy though possession with a clear intent to distribute will still be prosecutable. Those charged that are charged with felony intent to distribute will be referred to a diversion program. Defendants who face multiple charges, however, can still be charged with possession. “We need to get serious about prioritizing what actually makes us safe,” Mosby said, “and 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.” Baltimore’s acting police chief, however, said the city’s officers “will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession.”

“Ms. Mosby’s move places her in a vanguard of big-city prosecutors, including Kim Foxx in Chicago, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in Manhattan and Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn, who are moving away from marijuana cases, declaring them largely off limits and in some cases going so far as to clear old warrants or convictions off the books,” the New York Times notes. “Much of their reasoning sounds familiar from the many statewide campaigns that have resulted in outright legalization: Marijuana, they say, is not linked to violent crime. Enforcing its prohibition is a waste of resources, and has left thousands of people with criminal convictions that hinder their search for jobs and housing.”

“Jailing people for marijuana possession is a vast and ongoing moral failure,” Mosby said of the new policy. “Communities are still sentenced under these unjust policies, still paying a price for behavior that is already legal for millions of Americans. That’s why I’m moving to vacate these cases.”