Baltimore made national headlines in late January when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office would no longer prosecute people for possession of cannabis, regardless of quantity or criminal history.
“When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” said Mosby, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”
The decision came a month after a report by Baltimore Fishbowl stating that, despite Maryland’s decriminalization law that went into effect in late 2014, cannabis-related arrests in Baltimore were still disproportionately affecting African-Americans. Out of 1,514 such arrests between 2015 and 2017, 1,450 of the arrestees were black. That’s in spite of the fact that white people use drugs at similar rates to other groups.
Still, Mosby has gotten plenty of pushback – notably from Maryland Senate President Mike Miller. “Miss Mosby is wrong,” Miller said. “There are drug dealers in the city who need to be prosecuted and laws need to be unified across the state.”
Of course, Mosby (who by the way is a married woman) made it clear that she would still prosecute people if there were signs that they were dealing cannabis, such as possession of baggies and scales. She just won’t prosecute simple possession.
More recently, State Senator Brian Feldman and Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk have introduced legislation (again) in Annapolis to create safe injection sites, where people with addictions could use opioids under supervision to prevent overdoses. The last time such a bill was introduced, the Senate Finance Committee initially passed it but then changed its mind.
But let’s back up a bit. Remember Season 3 of The Wire? When Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin effectively legalizes drugs in designated “free zones” (Hamsterdam) in the Western District? The result, in spite of some serious challenges along the way, is a more orderly, more peaceful district. Dealers don’t fight over territory as much, and police can spend their time doing police work rather than wasting time breaking up open-air drug markets that just pop up somewhere else the next day.
In January 2019, Baltimore had 26 homicides. That’s identical to the figure from 2018, when we had 309 homicides for the year. After a 24-hour period in late February in which 14 people were shot and five were killed, we are very close to last year’s pace. That means, without significant changes, there’s a good chance that we are on our way to a fifth straight year of 300-plus murders.
Is it possible that the solution to – or, I should say, a way to alleviate – Baltimore’s homicide problem is not to just decriminalize cannabis possession, or allow people to use opioids safely, but to legalize drugs Bunny Colvin-style?