There has long been a body of opinion that criminal sanctions are unnecessarily harsh for minor marijuana offenses. In the 1970s eleven states, not including Maryland, removed those sanctions, replacing them with fines and civil penalties. In the last few years a number of Western nations (e.g., Australia, Belgium, Germany) have done the same and in some cases removed all penalties, though retaining the prohibition. The recent increases in arrests, the publicity about the rise in high school use, as well as the passage of referenda allowing marijuana for therapeutic purposes in seven states, have brought this debate back into focus in the United States.
This report explores the costs and consequences of the recent crackdown on marijuana use in the state of Maryland. After briefly summarizing the nature of the state’s marijuana problem it describes who is arrested; how many are incarcerated; whether there is evidence of disparate impact on minorities; who goes into treatment; and what services they receive. It attempts to assess how marijuana enforcement fits into policing generally and the extent to which marijuana treatment-seeking is primarily a means for avoiding criminal justice sanctions. Finally it offers an overall assessment, relying on national and international analyses, of the
consequences of the increase in enforcement.