Historically in Baltimore and in much of the United States, Black people have been arrested at higher rates than their white counterparts for cannabis charges.
But things seem to be changing in some cities. For instance, there has been just one man arrested for cannabis-related charges in Baltimore in 2022, according to the city’s public arrest data: a Black man, who was charged with possessing over 10 grams of cannabis, that’s a third of an ounce, or a quarter plus an eighth.
Over one year since Maryland State’s Attorney for Baltimore City Marilyn Mosby declared the war on drugs over, Baltimore’s cannabis arrest rates are still occurring but are notably down.
In March 2020, Mosby’s office stopped prosecuting drug charges, said Michael Collins, the strategic policy and planning director for the Office of the State’s Attorney in Baltimore City.
That, coupled with a state law decriminalizing cannabis in 2015 and the Baltimore Police Department coming under a federal consent decree in 2017, has led to a rapid drop in cannabis arrests in the city, he said.
“There’s obviously a yin and yang between prosecutor’s offices and the police,” Collins said. “What we’ve seen here is that as we’ve stopped prosecuting these cases we’ll see a drop off in arrests as well.”
Significantly, cannabis arrests are finally close to mirroring the city’s demographics, according to a Grown In analysis.
In 2019, 82% of people arrested for cannabis-related charges (not including synthetic marijuana charges) were Black, according to an analysis by Grown In. The U.S. Census reports that 63% of people in Baltimore are Black or African American.
Yet in 2021, 67% of the people arrested in Baltimore for cannabis-related charges were Black people.
That’s a 15% decrease over two years.
“Ultimately, we’re talking about people’s lives here, and if you have an overall reduction in the number of people being arrested and prosecuted, then, that’s going to be a positive thing,” Collins said.
This trend is seen to a smaller scale in other cities with recent arrest data publically available, like Chicago.
Chicago’s cannabis-related arrests are down in 2022, but 194 people were arrested so far this year. Compared to 2021, that’s a 68% decrease in the number of cannabis arrests.
But in the windy city, there is still a great deal of racial disparity when it comes to cannabis arrests.
Sixty-seven percent of those arrested in 2022 for cannabis charges are Black, according to Chicago Police Department data. Yet, Black people account for only 29% of Chicago’s population.
In 2020, 80% of all cannabis arrests were Black people, a 13% difference over two years.
In Baltimore, the prosecutor’s spokesman said they would like to see adult use marijuana legalized to eliminate the illicit underground market.
“It’s important that cannabis is legalized in a way that does recognize the harms,” Collins said. “Making sure that Black people in the city have access to capital so that they can enter the market and be part of the marijuana industry. It would be a great tragedy, if having borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition, Black people in the city did not benefit from marijuana legalization.”