ACLU of Maryland to Testify Today in Support of Bills to Decriminalize

Marijuana and Reform Mandatory Minimum Sentences



Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555;
Melissa Goemann, ACLU Legislative Director, 410-693-4877;

ANNAPOLIS, MD - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is testifying in support of two bills being heard in the House Judiciary Committee that will begin to reform the state's criminal justice system and reduce the serious and growing problem of over-incarceration in

Repeal of mandatory minimum sentences: House Bill 353 would repeal the mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug-related offenses and allow those convicted of certain drug-related offenses to participate in drug treatment programs. Nationwide, mandatory minimum sentences have worsened racial and gender disparities in our criminal justice system and have contributed to prison overcrowding. Maintaining mandatory minimum sentencing will continue to cost the state a great deal, both financially and socially. What's been lost with mandatory sentencing is a sense of scale and purpose. Low-level drug offenders should not be the focus, although statistics show that they disproportionately feel the brunt of the policy. And locking up people suffering with drug addiction is not the answer, because the goal should be to foster healthy communities that can positively respond to the social realities that exacerbate drug abuse.

Marijuana decriminalization: House bill 606 would decriminalize the use or possession of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana making it a civil offense subject to a fine not exceeding $100. Adults convicted of marijuana crimes face incarceration, fines, and the stigma of a lifetime criminal record. Even if a prosecution doesn't result in a conviction, the court file is available to employers, landlords, colleges, and the general public. This has significant long-term consequences for people's lives, including loss of employment, housing, and federal financial aid for college. And it has a dangerously disproportionate impact on minorities. Marijuana possession has already been decriminalized in 13 varied states across the country: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon.

WHAT: Hearings on House Bills 353 and 606 in the House Judiciary Committee.

WHO: Melissa Goemann, Legislative Director, ACLU of Maryland. Goemann will be available for media interviews.

WHERE: House Office Building, 6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD.

WHEN: Hearing begins at 1 pm.