Some Maryland drug offenders will be serving less time under a bill that passed the state legislature before the session ended earlier this week. The measure, HB 992, would allow second-time nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under mandatory minimum sentences to seek parole. With just under 5,000 drug offenders in prison in Maryland, the result will be an unanticipated opportunity for early release for some.
Under current state law, second-time drug sales offenders face a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. HB 992 will allow all but those also convicted of crimes of violence to seek parole.
According to a Justice Policy Institute (JPI) report on Maryland's mandatory minimums released in February as part of an effort to prod legislators to pass such a measure, more than 1,200 people have entered the Maryland prison system sentenced under mandatory minimum drug laws in the past 11 years. That same report found that in the last five years, 89% of the 500 sentenced under those laws were black.
The bill was backed by the Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration, an alliance of organizations headed by JPI and the Drug Policy Alliance. DRCNet is a member, as are the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Americans for Safe Access, Sensible Drug Policy Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Power Inside, Students for Sensible Drug Policy University of Maryland Chapter, Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, and the Marijuana Policy Project.