Maryland Governor Wes Moore has refused to explain why he did not approve a measure to prohibit police from stopping and searching individuals based solely on the scent of cannabis. This comes as the state prepares to legalize the recreational use of cannabis on July 1st.
The bill will become law in the state, which prohibits stopping and searching individuals based solely on the possession of cannabis weighing 1.5 ounces or less. The bill also prohibits stops and searches based on the presence of cash near cannabis without evidence of an intent to distribute. This new law goes into effect without the governor's signature.
David Jaros, faculty director at the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform stated his disappointment that the governor didn't sign the bill and show his support for cannabis reform.
On Monday, Moore chose not to sign a bill that will soon become law. His spokesman, Carter Elliott, did not provide any explanation for this decision. This is just one of 10 bills that will become law without Moore's signature.
Legal cannabis consumption and possession need to have the appropriate laws to match. The odor of cannabis shouldn't be justification for law enforcement to stop, search and interrogate individuals in a state where it is legal.
According to Jaros, assuming that people will know and exercise their Fourth Amendment rights when stopped for legal cannabis use is both "simplistic and naive."
The Maryland Chiefs of Police and Maryland Sheriffs’ associations have expressed their opposition to a new bill. They argue that the bill would prevent the use of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment in any proceeding, regardless of the reason for its introduction. While this evidence cannot be used in a criminal trial, the associations believe the bill goes too far in restricting its use altogether.
Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus Chair, Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, emphasized the vital importance of a bill in an email. She stated that it would enhance the safety of Black residents in the state.
African American drivers in Maryland make up only 30% of the population, but they have been stopped for traffic violations at a disproportionately high rate of 60% annually since 2018, says the Governor's Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services.
Black or African American drivers are more than four times as likely to undergo a warrantless vehicle search based on probable cause after being stopped by the police, in contrast to stops involving white drivers.
In anticipation of the legalization of cannabis in July, lawmakers made a concerted effort until the end of the legislative session to pass the bill.
The new law in Maryland will help to protect individuals from being wrongfully stopped and searched by police based solely on the scent of cannabis. While this is an important step forward, it also highlights just how far we still have to go when it comes to protecting citizens’ rights and reducing racial disparities in policing. We must continue our efforts towards ensuring that all people are treated with fairness and dignity under the law regardless of their race or background. It's time for meaningful reforms that reflect our commitment to justice and equality for all Americans.