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Baltimore Ends Marijuana Possession Prosecutions

The City of Baltimore joined Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Philadelphia in decriminalizing pot possession, even though they reside in non-legalized states. State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in January that her office will decline to prosecute any marijuana possession cases, regardless of the amount or the prior criminal history of the person in question.

The recreational possession or use remains illegal under federal law and in the State of Maryland. So how will the prosecutorial prohibition work?

Discretion on Dope

City, state, and federal prosecutors enjoy a significant amount of discretion in the decision to bring criminal charges. So, just because something is illegal, doesn't necessarily mean that prosecutors will file charges or follow through with a criminal trial. And by announcing a policy shift to refuse to prosecute certain criminal offenses, attorneys are signaling to the public their priorities. "When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?" Mosby said during a press conference, "the answer is emphatically 'no.'"

Such announcements are also designed to signal to police not to arrest people for that behavior. But it doesn't look like that will happen. "Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession," according to a statement from interim police commissioner Gary Tuggle.

Past, Present, and Future

While Mosby promised to continue to prosecute anyone suspected of selling marijuana, she has also backed a bill that would allow her office to vacate criminal convictions in marijuana cases and filed papers to vacate almost 5,000 previous marijuana prosecutions.

Whether those convictions will be vacated, and how Mosby's decriminalization plan will affect police behavior remain to be seen.

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