Lt. Gov. Brown’s plan focuses on treatment of ex-offenders, marijuana decriminalization


Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D). (Photo by Mark Gail for The Washington Post)

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Anthony G. Brown on Friday released a plan that incorporates proposals to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and to “shield” nonviolent criminal offenses from potential employers.

The proposals are part of a broader 10-point plan put forward by Brown , the state’s lieutenant governor, with the aim of overhauling the way Maryland treats ex-offenders and views relatively minor drug offenses. Brown’s “Second Chances, Safer Communities” plan also calls for additional investments in housing, job training and other transitional services meant to ease the reentry of prisoners back into society.

Several of his proposals echo initiatives that have been previously detailed by his Democratic primary opponents, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery). Some proposals are also similar to initiatives being debated by the Maryland General Assembly.

“As more Marylanders escape a life of crime, we must change our approach to the ex-offenders in our communities,” Brown, who was ahead of his rivals in a recent Washington Post poll, says in his plan.

Brown has previously spoken out in favor of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana — a position that his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), has not championed. Brown’s plan frames his support in terms of helping people avoid the stigma of criminal convictions and points out racial disparities in conviction rates.

“For too long, nonviolent Marylanders have been unfairly disadvantaged when searching for a job or housing due to minor marijuana convictions,” Brown says. “We will end this disparity by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

A bill that recently passed the state Senate would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana and impose a civil fine of $100 on those caught. The legislation is pending in the House of Delegates, where its fate is uncertain in the remaining 21 / 2 weeks of this year’s legislative session.

Brown also calls in his plan for the adoption of a pre-sentencing diversion program for first-time drug offenders similar to an initiative adopted in California. If the program is completed successfully, charges are dismissed.

The plan also voices support for a “shielding” law that would close criminal records of nonviolent ex-offenders to public inspection upon certain conditions. Brown casts the measure as another step in helping people get jobs.

Similar legislation was introduced by Maryland lawmakers this year but has been amended so that only online records would be hidden. Under a bill passed this week by the House, employers could still demand that job applicants provide full accounts of their criminal convictions as a condition of hiring.

Last year, the legislature passed a law eliminating the required disclosure of a criminal record on employment applications for state jobs, with the exception of public-safety positions. Brown proposes extending the “ban the box” policy to city and county job applications, though he would make an exception for public schools.

While a criminal background disclosure might be required later in the job-application process, removing the check box increases the opportunities for applicants to “demonstrate their professionalism and desire to perform the job,” Brown says.

Other proposals in Brown’s plan focus on services for ex-offenders trying to find housing and work upon their release. Brown proposes, for example, spending $2 million a year on grants to groups that would provide transitional housing coupled with services such as education and drug treatment.

Brown estimates the total annual cost of the initiatives in his plan to be about $5 million. He says the cost could be covered by the savings that would result from no longer pursuing criminal convictions of those caught with small amounts of marijuana.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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