By Van Smith
Baltimore, March 28, 2019
The intended effects of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis – the civilian benefit of fewer damning arrest records, especially for African-Americans who have suffered arrests disproportionately, and the police bonus of freeing up resources to pursue graver crimes – have been evident in Maryland since the measure became law in 2014. But the latest year for which data are available, 2017, shows a continuing creep upward in the prevalence of cannabis-possession arrests statewide, with stark regional differences, and an uptick in the percentage of African-American drug arrests.
Free State Cannablawg crunched the Maryland State Police numbers released this month, along with annual crime and population data going back to 2010, to find that per-capita pot-possession arrests, while still lower than before decriminalization, have gone up each year between 2015 and 2017. So have the percentages of all drug arrests that are for cannabis possession, a measure of drug-policing prioritization that essentially has returned to pre-decriminalization levels. Drug arrests of African-Americans, after dropping from 60 percent of all drug arrests in 2014 to 53 percent in 2016, in 2017 reversed course to 54 percent.
In some areas of the state, meanwhile, decriminalization has resulted in either a higher prevalence of pot-possession arrests, a greater level of police resources devoted to such arrests, or both. The Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, in particular, show a marked rise in per-capita pot-possession arrests in the aftermath of decriminalization. Only the Baltimore region has demonstrated a continued drop in per-capita pot-possession arrests since decriminalization, with Western Maryland exhibiting an apparent plateau at a lower level.
Both the Baltimore region and Western Maryland also have shown a continued dampening of drug policing devoted to cannabis possession – as has the Lower Eastern Shore, where the slight drop is relative to a very high level of pot-policing. In the suburban Washington region, meanwhile, decriminalization barely made a dent in the drive toward higher percentages of drug arrests that were for pot-possession.
The trends apparent in the pot-arrest data are a function of discretion exercised by police. Clearly, police forces in some regions of Maryland have taken the decriminalization memo to heart, while others have opted ratchet up their dedication to arresting people for possessing cannabis. The result is a state where, despite decriminalization, police increasingly are returning to their previously normal habit of arresting people who are found with some weed.
FreeStateCannablawg doesn’t have data to show reasons why this is happening, but would like to know whether, in a time when increasing numbers of Marylanders have access to legally prescribed medical cannabis, police are encountering more people who are more often carrying apparently illegal amounts over 10 grams, and thus are arresting them.
In the absence of such data, FreeStateCannablawg would accept anecdotes and suggested explanations. Should anyone be aware of medical-cannabis patients being arrested for illegal pot-possession, feel free to send relevant information to firstname.lastname@example.org – and, please, if you have any, offer ideas for possible other reasons for the data trends in the comments section.