Sentencing: Maryland Governor Vetoes Bill To Give Two-Time Drug Sales Offenders Parole Eligibility

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have provided the possibility of parole to people serving second-time drug sales sentences. Under current Maryland law, such offenders must serve a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence with no possibility of parole. The law would not have applied to violent offenders.

But in an interview with the Associated Press explaining his veto, O'Malley said he considered drug dealing to be a violent crime in itself. "Drug dealing is a violent crime, and the morgues of many of our counties and state are filled with the bodies that have been taken far too early because of drug distribution," O'Malley said. Maryland already provides opportunities for second-offenders to get drug treatment, he claimed, adding that the bill "unnecessarily broadens current law and makes parole a possibility, however remote, for drug dealers who are driven by greed and profit supported by violence, not addiction."

The bill, HB 992, passed the legislature with bipartisan support and was backed by a broad coalition of drug reformers, the faith community, public health and law enforcement officials, and drug treatment providers, as well as the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun. The coalition is not happy with O'Malley.

"The veto is a disappointing mistake," said Justice Policy Institute executive director Jason Zeidenberg. "Instead of taking a baby step in the right direction towards treatment instead of prison, O'Malley is stubbornly clinging to the failed tough on crime policies of the past. The governor failed to show leadership and vision in this decision."

"Governor O'Malley has put Maryland out of step with other states that are moving in the direction of smarter, more effective sentencing policies," said Naomi Long, director of the Drug Policy Alliance District of Columbia Metropolitan Area project. "This veto was a lapse of leadership, and hurts Maryland's efforts to implement the kinds of real reforms that would actually make a difference."

The state of Maryland spends millions of dollars each year incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, the vast majority of whom would be better served by drug treatment options. A recent report by the Justice Policy Institute found that Maryland's sentencing laws disproportionately affect communities of color and may be the least effective, most expensive way to promote public safety.

"The fight for more effective and fair sentencing policies isn't over," said Delegate Curtis Anderson (D-Baltimore), a sponsor of the legislation. "Maryland voters want more fair and effective sentencing policies. We will keep working with the governor to implement those reforms."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Bob Ehrlich

This is why I was telling people to vote for Bob Ehrlich. O'Malley is not a liberal. He only cares about his reputation - appearing tough on crime. That is why he had no problem telling his cops to arrest everyone in sight in Baltimore.

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