The rate of arrest for marijuana possession in the state of Maryland is
among the highest in the nation, leaving several legislators pondering
potential decriminalization laws. Official reports show that about 378
residents per every 100,000 in the state of Maryland are arrested for
marijuana possession every year. In fact, since 2007, the state has ranked
in the top five for marijuana possession rate in the nation.
Experts say that the problem likely stems from a focus on petty marijuana
possession, not busting larger-scale dealers that could end up facing
federal charges. Carryover laws from the ‘tough on crime’ movement in the
1990s stress a zero-tolerance policy throughout the state; during that
decade, possession arrests increased by 157 percent. Although statewide
numbers stabilized after 2000, the rate of arrest in Baltimore continues
to climb, with a 155 percent growth between 2000 and 2007.
Although many of the politicians who pushed for the ‘zero tolerance’
mandate have since left office, some of the controversial techniques introduced
during their tenure live on. Take, for example, the ‘stop and frisk’
method, which permits officers to effectively choose people to search
at will; officers only have to suspect that the individual is carrying
a concealed weapon. This tool has reportedly been used in a variety of
cases to check for marijuana possession. Now, though, news reports say
that Maryland residents are becoming more tolerant of marijuana use and
possession, which means that ‘stop and frisk’ could soon become
a thing of the past.
Advocates throughout the state say that decriminalization may be the wave
of the future, however, as the state has already passed a medical marijuana
bill. That provision, admittedly quite conservative, could be a first
step toward legal changes that would limit unfair arrest and incarceration
for minor drug crimes. Such changes could have important implications
for those accused of drug violations, perhaps even changing police strategies
through a comprehensive reform movement. Criminal defendants who are facing
drug charges may benefit from consulting a qualified criminal defense
attorney, who may help them learn more about how this potential legislation
could change the nature of their cases.