Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United is taking their call for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to end marijuana arrests and focus policing on violent offenders to the streets — via a mobile billboard.
MOMS commissioned the billboard on wheels, which they unveiled in a news conference on Thursday, to do laps around downtown Baltimore, including stops at police headquarters and City Hall on Thursday for six hours. MOMS argues most of the people murdered in Baltimore, and their families, never see justice. They believe resources should be spent on finding killers — not arresting marijuana users.
“Mayor Pugh, stop pot arrests, solve murders instead,” read the truck’s billboard.
HAPPENING TODAY: The group MOMS, Mothers of Murdered Sons & Daughters is rolling out a new billboard with a message to Mayor Catherine Pugh to “Stop pot arrests. Solve murders instead.” @WMAR2News #GMM2 @momsstopmurder
— Shannel Pearman (@ShannelPearman) February 21, 2019
A worthwhile message no doubt, but the very recent history of cannabis possession in Baltimore is a hazy situation. It all started in January, when the city’s attorney announced it would stop prosecuting cannabis possession cases.
“Effective immediately, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases regardless of weight and or criminal history,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told a packed press conference last month. She continued that cases that showed a clear intent to sell, like bagging the flower up or having a scale, would still be prosecuted by her office.
She also noted those still getting caught up in the criminal justice system would be sent to a diversion program for their first felony offense.
Hours later, the mayor announced that she backed the idea of the plan. Pugh said she believed there is a need to commit full efforts and resources to get violent criminals off the streets. She also noted it’s important to look at common sense approaches to the laws around personal possession of marijuana like so many other places already have.
“I am supportive of what State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is attempting to address, namely the unnecessary criminalization of those who possess marijuana merely for personal use,” said Pugh in a statement. “But at the same time, we also need to understand that those who deal illegal substances fuel criminality in our neighborhoods which leads to violence.”
Pugh also backed the plan to continue going after distributors, saying she believes people dealing in illegal substances fuel criminality in neighborhoods that leads to violence.
MOMS & the Mayor: On the Same Side?
The weird thing about this is everyone is seemingly supporting the same plan. Baltimore news station WMAR noted MOMS is specifically supporting the Baltimore City State’s Attorney plan to prosecute people for selling marijuana and not for possession.
“We want them to spend their time wisely on some of the violent offenders, violent crimes,” said MOMS co-founder Daphne Alston, who lost her son to Baltimore’s violence 11 years ago. “Mostly the homicides because a lot of our moms don’t have any justice for our children.”
Despite all this confusion about who’s on what side of the issue with MOMS and the mayor, the Baltimore Police department is definitely on the “let’s keep arresting people” side — apparently regardless of whether the case will ever be prosecuted. Part of the reason is that Baltimore’s current interim police commissioner Gary Tuggle is a former DEA agent.
“Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession,” Tuggle said in a statement, also just hours after the state’s attorney’s, according to the AP. At the time, Tuggle noted Baltimore police will only ever stop making arrests if Maryland’s legislature ever changes the law to make all possession legal. Tuggle did note the plan isn’t to go after pot, it’s to go after violence.
Detective Debbie Ramsey formerly worked with the Baltimore Police Department’s narcotics unit prior to her retirement and now works with The Law Enforcement Action Partnership spreading awareness of better alternatives to the failures of the war on drugs. We asked her what she thought was the point of arresting Baltimore offenders who won’t be prosecuted.
“In my opinion as a former officer right here in Baltimore, it’s a matter of listing your priorities,” Ramsey told Cannabis Now. Ramsey wondered if when these arrests are being made if the officers believe they’re really helping to protect the community — a community that also tends to bear the brunt of enforcement already.
All in all, it looks like MOMS billboard may have made a bit more sense if Commissioner Tuggle’s face was on it, but pressing the mayor again on an issue she claimed to be on your side about less than a month ago never hurt a worthy cause.
TELL US, do you support cannabis decriminalization?