During a press briefing on June 17, 2014, Councilmember Nancy Navarro announced a resolution introduced in the Montgomery County Council, urging the Governor and General Assembly to decriminalize paraphernalia, as was done for adult possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana in the recent decriminalization bill. In addition, the resolution issues an important “sense of the Council” that marijuana and paraphernalia by adults should be the County’s lowest law enforcement priority. The latter is important as the Montgomery County State’s Attorney took the same approach in early May and it is hoped this will lead county law enforcement towards a consistent approach.
In addition to Councilmember Navarro , the resolution is supported by Council President Rice, and Councilmembers Berliner, Branson, Erlich, Floreen and Reimer. The Libertarian Party of Maryland, a member of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, was represented at the briefing (by yours truly) along with the ACLU of MD, LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), Marijuana Policy Project, and the Montgomery County Young Democrats, to express their support for the resolution. In addition, several state delegates and a representative of Senator Raskin’s office were present in support of the resolution.
Although a comparatively small step compared to the ultimate goal of legalization, the Montgomery County resolution is important not only because it highlights one of the failures of the decriminalization bill that needs to be fixed (paraphernalia), but because it is an excellent example of local government taking a leadership role in ending the drug war by focusing on its pernicious impacts on constituents. Whether it is racially disparate enforcement (in Montgomery County, despite equal usage rates, black residents are 3.2 times more likely to be arrested for simple possession than their white counterparts), bulging prison populations for non-violent possession crimes, the inhibition to treating addiction and abuse as a medical problem due to criminal implications, and the criminal records for a meaningless crime that many citizens suffer from for a lifetime, harming their job prospects, student loans, housing, college admissions, etc., all of these side effects of prohibition serve as powerful arguments to end the drug war. Focusing on the impacts on citizens and local governance is a good fit both politically and from a libertarian perspective, consistent with concepts of subsidiarity. Nancy Navarro and the Montgomery County Council should be commended for their leadership on this issue and we can hope that other local jurisdictions will join the effort. Nationally, we are at a political tipping point on the issue of marijuana legalization. Let’s continue to push the effort through grassroots and local support.