(Photo by Meredith Curtis Goode)
On February 20th, the ACLU of Maryland held its very first in person Lobby Day since the Covid-19 pandemic began. At the event, there was a child as young and as small as one year and high schoolers who came to lobby alongside seasoned advocates. ACLU staff and their family members, activists, students, community leaders, and concerned residents from all corners of Maryland came together to meet with their state legislators in Annapolis and advocate for a better Maryland for each other. The event was buzzing with enthusiastic talk. The crowd that night was beautiful and the energy was unmatched, as we headed to our meetings with our elected leaders.
Donna Kirkpatrick is a mother, grandmother, and activist from Baltimore County, who came to Lobby Day. She came down that night for her child and grandchildren. Her son was affected by the racist marijuana policies in place in our state currently. She is advocating to put a stop to criminalizing Black and Brown people for a substance that Marylanders overwhelmingly voted to legalize.
Marylanders overwhelmingly demanded on their ballots an end to the criminalization of the recreational use of marijuana. However, our laws need to catch up to this new reality for all Marylanders. Marijuana related offenses such as possession with intent to distribute and possession of more than the civil use amount, can still result in a misdemeanor conviction. We are advocating to eliminate these criminal penalties and make them civil offenses instead. If not, Black people will still be vulnerable to the same racist arrest patterns that have targeted them and tore apart their communities for decades.
(Photos by Meredith Curtis Goode)
In the same vein, the ACLU strives to ban marijuana odor stops and searches as well. Police have too long been granted the authority to conduct searches based on something that cannot be categorically or objectively proven: a claim based solely on their sense of smell. These claims have been routinely used to infringe on individuals’ right to privacy and justify racial profiling. We are working alongside activists to ensure that police cannot use the alleged odor of marijuana to stop any Marylander or perform a search of their vehicle.
On Lobby Day, activists advocated for our fellow Marylanders serving life sentences with parole. To help end mass incarceration and provide real access to parole, our communities successfully removed the Governor from the parole process in 2021. Marylanders pushed elected leaders to eliminate the politicized process of allowing governors to overturn parole decisions for Marylanders serving life imprisonment sentences who have earned parole. But there was a drafting error that excluded medical parole, making it the only type of parole to still require gubernatorial approval. This is a serious mistake that needs to be fixed.
It is arguably most critical for the Parole Commission to be able to act expeditiously where the parole candidate is seriously ill or dying. In 2021 and 2022, five people recommended for medical parole died waiting for the Governor to Act. We cannot allow anymore lives to be lost due to this drafting error. We will continue advocating for them until a corrective bill is passed.
Like Donna, Reverend Marguerite Morris, Founder of Community Actively Seeking Transparency, sought to make an impact on Lobby Day. In her community in Annapolis and Anne Arundel, she advocates for police accountability and reform. Her motivation for coming down was to advocate for policies that pushed police accountability, and would honor her daughter who died at the hands of police.
Marylanders also spoke with legislators about the need for independent investigatory powers for the newly created local Police Accountability Boards (PABs). Together with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, the ACLU and our supporters are working to pass a bill to clarify that local governing bodies have the power to empower their PABs to issue subpoenas, interview witnesses, and employ all other investigative techniques necessary to draw accurate conclusions about incidents, and to investigate claims.
Not only did Marylanders come down to Annapolis to demand marijuana and legal justice reform, but they came down to also pass a Voting Rights Act for Maryland. Our federal voting rights have been withstanding attacks for three decades. It is time for our own state Voting Rights Act to ensure Maryland confronts evolving barriers to participation and roots out longstanding discriminatory practices by creating a civil right of action against voter intimidation and protections for non- English-speaking voters.
ACLU supporters also spoke out with their legislators to ensure that all children in Maryland have adequate and equitable education funding for their public schools. Maryland children have the right to a “thorough and efficient” public education, as guaranteed by the state constitution. This right includes funding so that all students have the full range of academic programs, supports, and resources they need to succeed.
Together, we are advocating so that children, like one year old Ángel who met with legislators, can grow up and realize their dreams to the fullest extent.
On Lobby Day, we advocated for policies that would protect BIPOC, children, voters, and even immigrants. A few activists came down to champion the Access to Care Act that would grant all immigrants equal access to healthcare. We want all Marylanders empowered to fully participate in society regardless of citizenship or legal status, which includes access to healthcare.
(Photos by Meredith Curtis Goode)
Khalil Elswazly and Mizanur Rahman from the Islamic Society of Frederick decided to come down to Lobby Day because they are advocating for fairness and equality. The Access to Care Act was an issue of importance to them because every person in Maryland deserves the right to healthcare. Our staff and communities work on many different issues. Legislators were happy to hear from their community members and see even the youngest Marylanders there to visit. Lobby Day is an opportunity for Marylanders to talk directly with their elected officials who pass laws that shape our lives. We get to influence which laws should pass. Our communities hold legislators accountable to their promises. There is no better time to advocate than on this crucial day.
Want to get involved with this work? Legislative session isn’t over yet. If you’d like to make an impact on our laws this year, join our email list so to stay updated on actions and news.