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Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Pledges to End Marijuana Arrests

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Baltimore voters will elect a new mayor this November, and one candidate just pledged to “end the drug war” and stop arrests for simple possession of marijuana.

“This is an area where the Mayor has the power to act immediately,” Elizabeth Embry, a former prosecutor, wrote in a criminal justice plan released Wednesday.  “We don’t want people using marijuana, but we also shouldn’t lock our youth up for doing so, or saddle them with a criminal record that does long-lasting harm to their future and educational and employment prospects. It costs taxpayers too much money, and it causes a host of other detrimental and counterproductive effects on individuals and their families when alternatives to arrest are more effective at reducing use.”

Embry’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on what the plan means by “simple possession,” but since holding up to 10 grams of marijuana is already decriminalized in Maryland, presumably she would direct police officers to cease arrests for quantities greater than that.

In the plan, Embry also pledges to:

● Rewrite the criminal justice playbook to divert drug offenders to treatment and rehabilitation instead of central booking and prison.
● End the cash bail system.
● Invest in specialized programs for mental health, sex work, veterans and the homeless.
● Make drug treatment more readily available.

“We need to bring an end, at long last, to the misguided and inhumane war on drugs that has criminalized rather than treated addiction, and led to the mass incarceration of Baltimore citizens, fueling for too long the breakup of families and the erosion of entire neighborhoods,” the campaign document says. “For a half-century, we have been jamming a square peg into a round hole by addressing a public health issue – namely, drug addiction – through a criminal justice model. This flawed framework has had unintended consequences for both addicts and the community as a whole.”

The plan caught the eye of “The Wire” creator David Simon, a Baltimore resident and vocal critic of the war on drugs.

After initially saying that Embry’s proposal would earn his vote, he quickly walked the endorsement back after a Baltimore Sun reporter pointed out that the plan might not go as far as Simon would like.

When Marijuana.com asked Simon for comment on what else he would ideally want the city’s mayor to do, he said he worried that simply scaling back marijuana prohibition might pacify some critics of the broader drug war, which would then continue.

Simon, himself a former Baltimore Sun reporter, said he wants police to focus on “good arrests” for guns and violence, not on drugs. He said current drug policies incentivize “bad police work.”

In a poll released last week, Embry trailed behind other candidates in the Democratic primary, including former Mayor Sheila Dixon, State Sen. Catherine Pugh and City Councilmembers Carl Stokes and Nick Mosby.

This story will be updated if the Embry campaign provides more details about its marijuana proposal.

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