Maryland ranks high in marijuana possession arrests

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.