Editor’s note: Sara Love will speak at Tuesday’s forum, The Baltimore War on Marijuana in Black and White, at OSI-Baltimore. Read more about the event here.
Time and again, the ACLU receives calls from Marylanders, usually poor and of color, who have fallen victim to the failed war on drugs. Many describe the illegal searches and verbal intimidation they experienced at the hands of law enforcement officers in the misguided, racially biased, and endless hunt for marijuana.
Others describe the collateral consequences of being arrested, charged, or convicted for marijuana possession—hours of missed work, loss of jobs and housing, stymied educational opportunities, and financial instability for entire households. The aggregate effects for poor neighborhoods and communities of color are immeasurable, chief among which is a pervasive sentiment of distrust of law enforcement and faithlessness in government.
In a recently released report, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, the ACLU of Maryland drew on arrest rates reported by the Maryland State Police and found that although Blacks and Whites use marijuana at similar rates, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than Whites in every county throughout Maryland. In 2010, Blacks made up 30 percent of Maryland’s population, but 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrests. As of 2010, Maryland had the fourth highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the nation, with a cost to the state of about $106 million annually.
Yet, while this failed War on Marijuana goes on and gets worse, Marylanders are increasingly ready for reform. Recent polls show that 53 percent of Marylanders support legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana, including 50 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats.
Increasing awareness of how racially biased our marijuana policies are now, together with growing support for reform, will hopefully break legislative inertia in Annapolis. Every day that passes under our existing laws sees more derailed livelihoods, disrupted communities, and wasted taxpayer dollars—all for the sake of criminalizing a nonviolent activity that a majority of Marylanders favor legalizing.