CannaCrime: The Eastern Shore is Maryland’s bastion of anti-pot policing

By Van Smith

Baltimore, March 30, 2019

Cannabis-carrying civilians on Maryland’s Eastern Shore bear a far greater risk of arrest for possession than those in the rest of the state, according to Free State Cannablawg’s analysis of arrest data from 2010 through 2017 compiled by Maryland State Police.

I crunched two sets of data to measure the relative “pot-friendliness” of Maryland’s jurisdictions – to show, in other words, where police are more or less apt to arrest people for possession.

First, using U.S. Census population estimates, I established the annual number of arrests for weed possession per 100,000 residents in all 23 counties and Baltimore City. This per-capita measure gives a sense of what happens on the streets, of the relative weight or density of possession arrests, in each jurisdiction. Here’s the resulting chart, with a dividing line for the state’s 2014 decriminalization for possessing small amounts:

Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 1.33.25 PM

The possession-arrest disparity between the Shore and the rest of Maryland is already apparent in 2010, and by 2014 it widens to more than a two-to-one ratio. After decriminalization, an immediate drop in per-capita arrests is pronounced – but on the Shore, arrests quickly rebound so that by 2017 the Shore has more than 800 possession arrests per 100,000 residents compared to about 250 in the rest of the state.

Then I determined the annual percentages of all drug arrests that were for pot possession in each jurisdiction. This gives an indication of how intensely each local government’s drug-enforcement effort focuses on people carrying weed. The rise and fall of these percentages, as one would expect, track roughly the pattern for per-capita pot-possession arrests. Here’s the chart:

Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 1.52.42 PM

Drug enforcement on the Eastern Shore, as the chart shows, has placed far greater emphasis on pot-possession arrests than the rest of Maryland has for the entire period. Thus, it appears that the Shore’s dramatic post-decriminalization possession-arrest jump has been administered without much change in anti-drug policing priorities.

However, all parts of the shore are not equally risky. In 2017, all of the counties of the Upper Shore – Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot – have at or less the Shore-wide per-capita pot-possession arrest number of 805 per 100,000 residents. On the Lower Shore, though, Dorchester County boasts 1,551 such arrests per 100,000 residents, while Worcester County, where Ocean City is situated, in 2017 reached a whopping 1,842 pot-possession arrests per 100,000 residents.

What interesting about Dorchester and Worcester counties is where they were in 2010. At that time, Dorchester County, whose largest city is Cambridge, had a mere 379 pot-possession arrests per 100,000 residents, so the police really ratcheted up pot enforcement in the post-decriminalization era. In Worcester County, on the other hand, there were 2,218 such arrests per 100,000 residents, so the still-high numbers for 2017 actually represent a significant increase.

The bottom line: if you’re going to possess cannabis in Maryland and are averse to risking arrest for doing so, perhaps it’s best to stay on the Baltimore side of the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River.

CannaCrime: Latest Maryland pot-possession arrest data show uptick, stark regional differences

By Van Smith

Baltimore, March 28, 2019

The intended effects of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis – the civilian benefit of fewer damning arrest records, especially for African-Americans who have suffered arrests disproportionately, and the police bonus of freeing up resources to pursue graver crimes – have been evident in Maryland since the measure became law in 2014. But the latest year for which data are available, 2017, shows a continuing creep upward in the prevalence of cannabis-possession arrests statewide, with stark regional differences, and an uptick in the percentage of African-American drug arrests.

Free State Cannablawg crunched the Maryland State Police numbers released this month, along with annual crime and population data going back to 2010, to find that per-capita pot-possession arrests, while still lower than before decriminalization, have gone up each year between 2015 and 2017. So have the percentages of all drug arrests that are for cannabis possession, a measure of drug-policing prioritization that essentially has returned to pre-decriminalization levels. Drug arrests of African-Americans, after dropping from 60 percent of all drug arrests in 2014 to 53 percent in 2016, in 2017 reversed course to 54 percent.

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.53.47 AM

In some areas of the state, meanwhile, decriminalization has resulted in either a higher prevalence of pot-possession arrests, a greater level of police resources devoted to such arrests, or both. The Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, in particular, show a marked rise in per-capita pot-possession arrests in the aftermath of decriminalization. Only the Baltimore region has demonstrated a continued drop in per-capita pot-possession arrests since decriminalization, with Western Maryland exhibiting an apparent plateau at a lower level.

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.53.10 AM

Both the Baltimore region and Western Maryland also have shown a continued dampening of drug policing devoted to cannabis possession – as has the Lower Eastern Shore, where the slight drop is relative to a very high level of pot-policing. In the suburban Washington region, meanwhile, decriminalization barely made a dent in the drive toward higher percentages of drug arrests that were for pot-possession.

The trends apparent in the pot-arrest data are a function of discretion exercised by police. Clearly, police forces in some regions of Maryland have taken the decriminalization memo to heart, while others have opted ratchet up their dedication to arresting people for possessing cannabis. The result is a state where, despite decriminalization, police increasingly are returning to their previously normal habit of arresting people who are found with some weed.

FreeStateCannablawg doesn’t have data to show reasons why this is happening, but would like to know whether, in a time when increasing numbers of Marylanders have access to legally prescribed medical cannabis, police are encountering more people who are more often carrying apparently illegal amounts over 10 grams, and thus are arresting them.

In the absence of such data, FreeStateCannablawg would accept anecdotes and suggested explanations. Should anyone be aware of medical-cannabis patients being arrested for illegal pot-possession, feel free to send relevant information to – and, please, if you have any, offer ideas for possible other reasons for the data trends in the comments section.


CannaCrime: Latest Baltimore crime data show dramatic decline in cannabis-possession arrests as decriminalization takes hold

By Van Smith

Baltimore, March 22, 2109

While racial disparities continue to muddy the waters of pot-prohibition discussions, one thing jumps out when crunching newly available Maryland State Police crime data: Baltimore City’s law-enforcement discretion in the age of decriminalization had led to a free fall in the number of people getting jacked up for possessing cannabis. As the city’s numbers have dropped, so too have the region’s: from nearly 500 pot-possession arrests per 100,000 residents in 2010, to below 150 per 100,000 residents in 2017.

Screen Shot 2019-03-22 at 2.02.35 PM

It took me some time to create this population-corrected analysis, but it’s borne fruit. Also interesting to note are trends in specific counties. In Harford, for instance, per-capita pot-possession arrests jumped significantly in 2016 and 2017 compared to the six years prior – decriminalization since 2014 seems to have had the opposite practical affect there than the policymakers intended – and in Anne Arundel the downward shift is decidedly muted. Baltimore County, meanwhile, clearly has taken the decrim memo to heart by bringing its per capita possession-arrest numbers in 2017 down to Baltimore City’s sub-basement levels.

CannaBuzz: Maryland Senate committee greenlights cannabis bills

By Van Smith

Baltimore, March 5, 2019

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPC) yesterday gave thumbs up to three cannabis bills, while the first Maryland House of Delegates-approved cannabis bill of the General Assembly session – to add more licensed professionals who can certify medical-cannabis patients, which passed overwhelmingly, 122-14, on Feb. 15 – awaits its consideration.

Senate Bill 97 seeks to prevent licensed gun-owners from losing Second Amendment rights should they join Maryland’s medical-cannabis program. The JPC gave it unanimous approval, with bipartisan sponsorship by members Michael Hough (R-District 4, Carroll and Frederick counties), Justin Ready (R-District 5, Carroll County), Chris West (R-District 42, Baltimore County), and chair Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11, Baltimore County).

Senate Bill 858 aims to boost cannabis-related academic research by providing access to medical cannabis to licensed researchers. Sponsored by JPC chair Zirkin, it too received unanimous committee approval.

Senate Bill 860 would resolve a nettlesome matter for the state’s corrections community – both inmates and officials – by establishing that certified medical-cannabis patients’ supervision, probation, or parole can’t be revoked for lawful use of medical cannabis.

All three JPC-approved bills next go to Senate floor vote.

The JPC also yesterday gave thumbs down to two bills: Senate Bill 86, which sought to assure that possession of weed, medical or not, stays illegal in correctional settings, including for offenders still on probation; and Senate Bill 855, which would have required corrections officials to provide inmates with access to the state’s medical-cannabis program.



CannaCrime: Big drop in Baltimore City pot-possession arrests, but not in the suburbs

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 8, 2019

The statewide phenomenon of police in Maryland disproportionately arresting African Americans on drug charges is profoundly clear in FSC’s analyses of Maryland State Police (MSP) crime data. (And it’s an ongoing problem in Baltimore City, starkly reported by Baltimore Fishbowl in December.) But in the Baltimore region, another disparity also leaps out from the data – while city police are only occasionally arresting people for cannabis possession now, suburban cops have hardly reined in their pot-arrest instincts.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 2.48.27 PM

What’s more, Baltimore City and the surrounding suburban counties have switched places when it comes to the prevalence of cannabis-possession arrests since 2010. The city saw one such arrest for every 90 residents in 2010, while in the suburbs the figure was one in every 320 residents. In 2016, the surburban number had inched up to one in every 580 residents – but in the city, it had climbed precipitously to one pot-possession arrest for every 1,280 residents, a striking change.

The chart above shows the switch started to occur around 2013, when roughly the same number of pot-possession arrests occurred in the city versus the suburbs. After that, the city’s number of such arrests dropped to below 500 a year, while in the suburbs – the data are for Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties – they remained in the high 3000s.

Pot-possession enforcement in Baltimore City has become almost rare, with a rapid drop in the proportion of all drugs arrests that were for pot possession starting in 2014 – and falling to below 10 perent thereafter. In the surrounding counties and statewide, though, enforcement intensity remains high – nearly 50 percent in the suburbs, which is high by the counties’ historical standards, even as statewide it dropped below 50 percent after consistently hovering around 60 percent since 2003.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 2.03.54 PM

Here’s the usual caveat: arrest data are blunt, missing critical nuances that come only with knowing the particular facts and circumstances of each arrest. A pot-possession arrest, for instance, could be counted as such even though the arrestee was also being charged with assault and handgun violations. Or a pot-possession arrest could arise from only one charge, brought by a cop who wanted to take a problem citizen off the streets. The MSP data don’t tell such stories, but FSC still has found them to be a handy source for unearthing big-picture arrest trends.


CannaCrime: Maryland arrest data measure impact of cannabis decriminalization

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 8, 2019

Thirteen years of available Maryland State Police (MSP) data show dramatic changes in statewide drug-arrest trends as the era of cannabis decriminalization and medical pot approached, arrived in 2014, and thence became the new normal. The result: tens of thousands fewer arrests for drug crimes, including a dramatic drop in the number of drug arrests of African-American Marylanders. More resistant to change, though, is law enforcers’ drug-fighting focus on arrests for cannabis possession and on disproportionately arresting African-Americans for drug crimes generally.

Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 1.59.32 PM

FSC compiled MSP data for analysis from the annual “Crime in Maryland” reports, which are available online from 2004 to 2016. The data reveal a dramatic reduction in drug-crime arrests – about 20,000 less in 2016 than the 2004-2010 average of 53,500. African-Americans, in particular, have been subjected to far few arrests – 17,500 in 2016, about half the 2004-2010 annual average of 34,500.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 9.13.31 AM

The proportion of drug-crime arrests that were for cannabis possession, though, remains elevated in the era of decriminalization and medically prescribed weed in Maryland – and in fact, after dropping to 44 percent in 2015 from 52 percent in 2014, crept up to 48 percent in 2016. This is historically high; the 2004-2010 average was 41 percent. Thus, drug-crime policing in Maryland – while far less intense in terms of the raw numbers of arrests – remains wed to an increasingly anachronistic inclination to bust people for possessing pot.

The proportion of all drug-crime arrests in which the people charged were African-Americans has dropped moderately with the advent of decriminalization, but remains starkly disproportionate in a state where less than a third of the population is African American. Whereas the average proportion of African-American drug-crime arrests between 2004 and 2010 was 65 percent of all drug-crime arrests in Maryland, in 2015 the figure was 56 percent, and in 2014 it dropped to 53 percent.

It should be pointed out that drug-crime arrests, along with the subset of pot-possession arrests, are blunt data points, obscuring the factual nuances of each arrest’s circumstances. Some such charges could be just one a host brought against, say, a violent drug-dealer, or they could be the one and only charge against an otherwise law-abiding citizen who dissed the wrong cop. Blunt as they are, though, the “Crime in Maryland” data comprise a nice, long, consistent record.

The next “Crime in Maryland” report, covering 2017 data, should be out in the next month or two, at which point FSC will update these analyses.

Cannabizness: Analyst explains Maryland bill to allow opioid sufferers access to legal weed

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Jan. 24, 2019

Maryland’s opioid-related death rate is more than twice the national average, a morbid background to a bill before the Maryland General Assembly this session, House Bill 33 (HB 33), that would allow those suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD) to qualify for the state’s medical-marijuana program.

Much of Department of Legislative Services policy analyst Kathleen Kennedy’s just-published note on HB 33 is dedicated to explaining Maryland’s opioid epidemic, and policy responses to it, while summarizing the recent report by Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Commission (MCC) that cast a seemingly skeptical eye on the proposal.

Last year, the House Health and Government Operations Committee (which has scheduled a hearing on HB 33 at 2pm on Jan. 29) voted down the measure, while the Senate version languished after a Finance Committee hearing. This year, now that Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York have blazed the trail for allowing legal weed to help treat OUD, the bill’s sponsor, Baltimore City state Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-45th District), is trying again.

While our mid-Atlantic neighbors to the north are giving pot-for-OUD a try-out, three other states – Hawaii, Maine, and New Mexico – passed legislation only to see it vetoed by their governors “following significant pressure from health care providers, health care organizations, and addiction specialists,” Kennedy writes. Her note also points out that the federal cannabis ban is frustrating “a significant need for high-quality clinical research” on the use of legal weed to treat OUD – a point that is made in many corners on this issue.

(For those interested in reading an apologist’s first-hand account of how weed helps in opiate recovery, try this, by Elizabeth Brico in The Fix.)

Questions about how medical cannibis fits into society’s addiction-management rubric are likely to continue. What’s on the horizon? Hop Chronic, a THC-laced non-alcoholic beer produced by Flying Dog Brewery and Green Leaf Medical, both based in Frederick, Md., is set to be released this year, assuming the laws and regulations are in place to allow it, and “Will it help or hurt if you’re a teetotaler?” is a question sure to prompt lively discussions.


Cannapress: The Stranger in Seattle versus the gullible media elite

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Jan. 14, 2019

Lester Black is the Stranger‘s hard-partying staff writer, and boy-howdy was he spot on about something recently: the anti-pot scaremongering that’s been hitting the headlines of late is fueled by the release of cannabis-contrarian Alex Berenson’s book-length polemic, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, and Berenson’s recent editorial, “What Advocates of Legalizing Pot Don’t Want You to Know,” published by his alma mater, the New York Times. In the nuance-averse ecosystem that is our fast-click media landscape these days, Berenson’s fighting screeds quickly were picked up and bounced around prominently as products of deeply researched science-based journalism done by a pro. Just as quickly, Black shot the story full of holes.

Black exposed how Berenson repeatedly conflated correlation and causation when looking at science and data. Confusing the two can lead to drastically different, or even diametrically opposed, policymaking outcomes, hamstringing society’s best intentions. And confusing the two, whether purposefully or out of ignorance, can also dupe editors at top publications into running baseless stories that, while they look and smell sophisticated, are in effect fake news feeding nonexistent controversies. There’s no question science needs to gather and understand much more evidence about cannabis use, and let the paths to policy lead us sensibly, but Berenson only succeeded in convincing many that false flags were actual threats.

As Black writes, “We need people to be critical about our policy decisions, and we need scientists to keep studying what happens when we smoke pot (and if they keep looking, they will likely keep finding new benefits). But people like Berenson who merely have a book to sell and don’t care who they damage in the process don’t deserve to be listened to. And the media blitz surrounding Berenson’s book clearly shows how much East Coast media circles need to learn about pot.”


Cannapress: Doug Donovan is killing it

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Jan. 13, 2019

If you’re interested in Maryland’s medical-cannabis scene, stay up with the Baltimore Suns Doug Donovan. This week alone, he notched two insightful pieces that can serve as a roadmap of the industry and its issues. First up, on Jan. 9, was an unveiling of what’s likely to be a hot legislative issue in Annapolis this year: whether management agreements that increasingly are allowing med-pot businesses get around rules intended to keep national or out-of-state chains from dominating Maryland’s industry should be reined in. Then, on Jan. 10, Donovan explored the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission‘s new report concluding that, while some anecdotal evidence exists that cannabis can help opioid addicts as they try to kick their habits, scientific evidence is lacking – and some studies show that it can exacerbate dependency issues. (Baltimore City state Del. Cheryl Glenn has, as FSC reported this week, introduced a bill this session in the Maryland General Assembly to add opioid abuse disorder to the list of conditions that can qualify patients for medical-cannibis certification.) Cheers to Donovan for his good work.