March 19, 2013

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, Communications Director, 410-889-8555; 

Sara Love, Public Policy Director, 703-963-2710; 

ANNAPOLIS - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland today lauded the Maryland State Senate for voting to approve Senate Bill 297, which would make the use or possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil offense, punishable by a fine not exceeding $100, rather than imprisonment. 

Maryland taxpayers spend over $1.1 billion per year to maintain a bloated prison system, which has tripled in size since 1980. And even though surveys suggest that whites and African-Americans have similar rates of drug use and drug distribution, the vast majority of those incarcerated for drug offenses are African-American. The Justice Policy Institute found that in 2003, African Americans represented 28 percent of Maryland's population, but accounted for 68 percent of all drug arrests, and 90 percent of all those imprisoned in the state for a drug offense.

Maryland also has one of the highest rates of arrests for marijuana possession in the country and some of the severest penalties in the nation. In 2007, Maryland had the fourth highest number of arrests for marijuana offenses in the nation, with marijuana possession accounting for 89% of all the arrests.

The following may be attributed to Sara Love, Public Policy Director, ACLU of Maryland: 

"Thanks to our state senators for recognizing that Maryland's heavy penalization of marijuana possession does not improve public safety, does not reduce drug use, and is a huge waste of money. For far too long, marijuana possession enforcement has disproportionately targeted people of color and clogged our criminal justice system. Now is the time to stop wasting our limited resources on arresting and jailing the people of Maryland for possession of small amounts of marijuana. By making it a civil rather than a criminal offense, the state of Maryland can signal disapproval of marijuana possession without saddling a low-level marijuana user with the severe consequences of a criminal conviction."