Recent ACLU Report Claims Racial Disparity In Marijuana Arrests

Back in February, this blog discussed then-pending Maryland Senate Bill 297 (“SB 297”), that proposed to eliminate the potential for jail time as a punishment for possession of marijuana in favor of a maximum fine of $100, and remove the offense of simple marijuana possession, constituting possession of anything less than ten grams, from the state criminal code.

In March, SB 297 was approved by the Maryland by the State Senate but not by the House Committee on the Judiciary prior to the close of the 2013 legislative session. Accordingly, the current criminal laws regarding marijuana remain on the books in Maryland.

Under Maryland law those in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana could face a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. Those convicted of possessing 10 grams or more are subject to imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding $1,000 (or both). However, traffickers of marijuana, individuals in possession of large amounts of marijuana, or those who have previously been convicted of drug offenses may be subject to prosecution for more serious offenses with harsher penalties.

A recent report released by the American Civil Liberties Union has reignited the debate regarding the decriminalization of marijuana with findings that Maryland and Washington, D.C., lead the nation in marijuana arrests and African-Americans being disproportionately likely to be arrested for marijuana.

According to the report, in 2010, for every 100,000 residents of Washington, D.C., 846 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession. The national rate for marijuana arrests in the same year was only 256 for every 100,000 residents. Maryland’s arrest rate was 409 for every 100,000 residents and Baltimore City a staggering 1,136 per 100,000 residents. According to another report by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron, Maryland spends over $236 million each year to enforce its marijuana laws, most of which is devoted to prosecuting criminal cases.

The report further determined that, of the individuals arrested for marijuana possession in Washington, D.C. in 2010, 91% were African-American. Comparing arrest rates between different racial groups, the report concluded that African-Americans were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than Caucasians. These numbers are even more disturbing when given the fact that the study found there were comparable rates of marijuana use between these groups. Across Maryland, 58% of arrestees for marijuana possession were African-American.

The ACLU report concludes, “The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, crowds our jails, is carried out in a racially biased manner, wastes millions of taxpayers’ dollars and has not reduced marijuana use or availability. Marijuana possession arrests also waste precious police resources and divert law enforcement from responding to and solving serious crimes. It is time for marijuana possession arrests to end.”

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals charged with drug crimes in both state and federal courts. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.