New Maryland Marijuana Law to Cut Back on Racial Profiling
“In Maryland, police are four times more likely to subject Black drivers to a warrantless search in their vehicles during traffic stops than white drivers. This bill would eliminate opportunities for officers to abuse the discretion afforded to them in these situations and reduce opportunities for racial profiling on the road.”- Charlotte Crutchfield, Bill sponsor.
Maryland is the latest among the States that prohibit law enforcement officers from conducting searches solely based on the odor of marijuana. House Bill 1071 was passed minutes to midnight on the final day of the legislative session last month. The passing of the bill has attracted support and criticism in equal measure with Governor Wes Moore letting it become law without his signature.
The Old Line State joins several other states such as New York, Arizona, Illinois, and Pennsylvania to tame police officers that use the smell of pot to conduct warrantless searches. This has been widely seen as yet another step towards legalizing marijuana use in Maryland. For the Black community, however, it is a much-desired relief from racial profiling.
“In Maryland, police are four times more likely to subject Black drivers to a warrantless search in their vehicles during traffic stops than white drivers,” said the lead sponsor of the bill, Del. Charlotte Crutchfield, before the senate in March. “This bill would eliminate opportunities for officers to abuse the discretion afforded to them in these situations and reduce opportunities for racial profiling on the road.”
This testimony from the delegate representing Montgomery County is supported by statistics and experiences from Black citizens. A study conducted by a team led by Ravi Schroff, an assistant professor at NYU Steinhardt and NYU CUSP, established that black drivers were searched about 1.5 to 2 times as often as white drivers. It further noted that Black drivers were less likely to be carrying drugs, guns, or other illegal contraband compared to their white peers.
A black man, Orlando Dickson, guessed it right when he sensed he was going to be pulled over at a red light in New York in 2017. “I’ve been pulled over so many times in my life, after not really doing anything, that every time a police officer gets behind me, I assume I’m going to get pulled over,” the then 28-year-old lamented after he noticed a police car behind him. He was pulled over, instructed to get out of the car, and had his car searched by the officer who said “he could smell marijuana in the vehicle.” No contraband was found and Dickson said he doesn’t smoke marijuana.
For decades, law enforcement officers have used “the smell of marijuana” to justify illegal searches on Black people. With this off their bag of tricks now, Black people can retain their dignity and enjoy their privacy more.
The bill takes effect on July 1, 2023.