By Van Smith
Baltimore, March 30, 2019
Cannabis-carrying civilians on Maryland’s Eastern Shore bear a far greater risk of arrest for possession than those in the rest of the state, according to Free State Cannablawg’s analysis of arrest data from 2010 through 2017 compiled by Maryland State Police.
I crunched two sets of data to measure the relative “pot-friendliness” of Maryland’s jurisdictions – to show, in other words, where police are more or less apt to arrest people for possession.
First, using U.S. Census population estimates, I established the annual number of arrests for weed possession per 100,000 residents in all 23 counties and Baltimore City. This per-capita measure gives a sense of what happens on the streets, of the relative weight or density of possession arrests, in each jurisdiction. Here’s the resulting chart, with a dividing line for the state’s 2014 decriminalization for possessing small amounts:
The possession-arrest disparity between the Shore and the rest of Maryland is already apparent in 2010, and by 2014 it widens to more than a two-to-one ratio. After decriminalization, an immediate drop in per-capita arrests is pronounced – but on the Shore, arrests quickly rebound so that by 2017 the Shore has more than 800 possession arrests per 100,000 residents compared to about 250 in the rest of the state.
Then I determined the annual percentages of all drug arrests that were for pot possession in each jurisdiction. This gives an indication of how intensely each local government’s drug-enforcement effort focuses on people carrying weed. The rise and fall of these percentages, as one would expect, track roughly the pattern for per-capita pot-possession arrests. Here’s the chart:
Drug enforcement on the Eastern Shore, as the chart shows, has placed far greater emphasis on pot-possession arrests than the rest of Maryland has for the entire period. Thus, it appears that the Shore’s dramatic post-decriminalization possession-arrest jump has been administered without much change in anti-drug policing priorities.
However, all parts of the shore are not equally risky. In 2017, all of the counties of the Upper Shore – Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot – have at or less the Shore-wide per-capita pot-possession arrest number of 805 per 100,000 residents. On the Lower Shore, though, Dorchester County boasts 1,551 such arrests per 100,000 residents, while Worcester County, where Ocean City is situated, in 2017 reached a whopping 1,842 pot-possession arrests per 100,000 residents.
What interesting about Dorchester and Worcester counties is where they were in 2010. At that time, Dorchester County, whose largest city is Cambridge, had a mere 379 pot-possession arrests per 100,000 residents, so the police really ratcheted up pot enforcement in the post-decriminalization era. In Worcester County, on the other hand, there were 2,218 such arrests per 100,000 residents, so the still-high numbers for 2017 actually represent a significant increase.
The bottom line: if you’re going to possess cannabis in Maryland and are averse to risking arrest for doing so, perhaps it’s best to stay on the Baltimore side of the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River.