ACLU, MCJPA Advocating to End Criminal Penalties for Marijuana
ANNAPOLIS, MD – The following is a statement from Yanet Amanuel, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, regarding SB 396 / HB 320:
“Opponents of ending marijuana odor as a sole basis for police vehicle searches have said that the law must be repealed because law enforcement rely on cannabis odor as a justification for searching vehicles and seizing guns. That is simply ridiculous, because the simple odor of cannabis does not indicate whether or not someone is in the possession of an illegal firearm. But what police do is use the alleged odor of cannabis to justify racial profiling.
“Police have no real data to support their claim. We know that because we've made public information requests for their alleged data on gun seizures and several police departments and state’s attorneys’ offices have reported that they do not track this data.”
ACLU/MCJPA’s Marijuana-Related Priority for 2024:
Last November, Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to end the criminalization of recreational use of marijuana. However, under current law, marijuana related offenses such as possession with intent to distribute and possession of more than the civil use amount (2.5 ounces), can still result in misdemeanor convictions. This will perpetuate a troubling pattern of disproportionate arrests by police targeting Black and Brown Marylanders, who will continue to bear the brunt of criminal penalties despite the broader legalization.
Keeping these offenses has zero benefit to public safety, especially because the vast majority of people who currently sell marijuana are subsistence dealers selling to survive. They do not make substantial profit and will not have access to a license to distribute marijuana lawfully.
It is unfair to continue to levy any kind of punishment against them when wealthy, mostly white Marylanders will be able to engage in the same conduct legally and for profit. Marijuana legalization should not only address past harms, but it must prevent future disparities.
In 2024, the ACLU and our partners are working to pass HB 441/SB 616, which would eliminate these penalties and designate possession of more than the civil use amount and possession with intent to distribute as civil offenses, subject to citations and civil fines, rather than imprisonment.