State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby at odds with police over marijuana arrests

BALTIMORE – The last time State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby fought with the Baltimore Police Department, a big piece of this city was on fire. This time, the fight’s only about lighting up a joint.

The last time Mosby made headlines – and they were big ones, witnessed by the whole country – she was unsuccessfully prosecuting half a dozen city cops for their alleged roles in the death of young Freddie Gray, whose sudden demise while in police custody set off days of public rioting and arson here.

This time, Mosby’s reaching for a sane arrest policy on marijuana, only to find out the Baltimore Police Department’s had one for years. Apparently, this somehow escaped Mosby’s notice.

Don’t these folks know they’re supposed to be working on the same page?

Last week Mosby made headlines when she announced her office will no longer bother prosecuting marijuana cases. Her reasoning was pretty clear: it would allow beleaguered police to devote more time to the violent street crimes that are truly tearing apart this city.

Also mentioned by Mosby was the sheer inequality in enforcing marijuana laws over the years. More than 90 percent of those arrested on pot charges happen to be African-American. And what are we to make of that? That white people aren’t smoking dope? Anyone making such an argument would have to be high.

In Mosby’s reckoning, her big gesture would mirror such cities as Philadelphia, Chicago, Manhattan and Brooklyn, N.Y., which have made similar accommodations on marijuana at a time when so many states are either decriminalizing pot or at least okaying it for medical usage.

And yet, and yet…

What we have here is a state’s attorney and a police department that can’t seem to get out of each other’s way.

For openers, Mosby says she briefed top-ranking police officials about her new policy, and their reaction was not exactly pure joy. Their official statement said marijuana arrests will continue “unless and until the state legislature changes the applicable laws.”

Frankly, that’s the kind of pronouncement that asks: Who’s in charge here? Because it seemed to say police would continue to arrest pot abusers – but the state’s attorney’s office would never bring those abusers to court.

So where does that leave those unlucky enough to be arrested? They’d either throw away money to make bail – or they’d sit behind bars, endlessly and forever, waiting for their cases to be called.

And, under Mosby’s new policy, they never would be called.

But here’s where Mosby’s left looking even sillier.

According to one local newspaper, the cops are already ignoring marijuana cases. By the department’s own score-keeping, they’re arresting roughly one person per day on marijuana charges.

In 2018, there were 363 marijuana arrests.

The year before, 339. The year before that, 311.

This, in a city of more than 600,000 people, where more than 20,000 arrests are made each year.

“We’re not expending resources going after pot,” Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggles told that local newspaper on the day his department released the marijuana arrest figures. “We’re expending our resources going after violence.”

That’s nice to hear, in a city with blood-stained streets. But it’s also a little jab at Mosby, an attempt to show she’s out of touch with her big public announcement, and a signal of the cops’ enduring bitterness over her prosecuting those police in the Freddie Gray incident.

Nobody has a better feel for the streets than the cops – not prosecutors who work out of a safe courthouse, nor politicians mainly concerned about their next election.

And what the cops know, and long ago figured out, was that they’ve got enough serious crime on their hands that it makes no sense to spin their wheels going after marijuana arrests.

It’s been years since they started ignoring those cases – and anyone connected even tangentially with law enforcement, and paying the slightest attention, would have known that.

Except, apparently, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

It’s not that her decision on marijuana’s a bad one – it’s just a whole lot late.