Council Candidate Criticizes County’s Marijuana Decriminalization Push

Councilmembers Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer with Republican challenger Robert Dyer (far right) at a candidates forum in May in Chevy Chase (file photo)A Republican political candidate and Bethesda resident says the County Council has surrendered in the War on Drugs by passing a marijuana decriminalization resolution on Tuesday.

Robert Dyer, one of four Republican at-large Council candidates who will be on the ballot in November, released a statement in which he said the resolution would lead to more drug dealers and hurt the county’s economic development prospects.

“It is a terrible message to children in our community, and an action that will increase crime and reduce public safety in our neighborhoods,” Dyer said. “Family-friendly neighborhoods are drug-free neighborhoods. If elected, I won’t surrender in the war on drugs like my opponents have. The ‘sense of the Council’ is nonsense. It’s time to reject those who would score political points at the expense of the health and safety of our citizens.”

The Council unanimously approved the resolution Tuesday morning. It comes on the heels of statewide marijuana decriminalization in this year’s General Assembly.

The county action directs county police to make the arrest of those who possess marijuana one of the department’s lowest priorities. It also states that effective May 12, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy directed his office not to prosecute first-time offenders for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, even if accompanied by paraphernalia.

The state decriminalization law signed April 14 omitted the paraphernalia component, something state lawmakers have said was an oversight they expect to resolve next session.

The law makes the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana punishable by civil fines for the first two offenses for those 21 and over.

Supporters of the decriminalization effort at the state and county levels pointed to statistics that show African Americans go to jail at a higher rate for marijuana possession, despite usage levels that are the same as whites.

The resolution also stated that “otherwise law-abiding residents could be saddled with a criminal record that makes it more difficult to subsequently obtain a job, housing, government benefits, student loans, college admission, and causes difficulties in many other areas of life.”

In 2013 there were 4,181 drug offenses in Montgomery County, 3,629 of which were for simple possession or use. According to a report from the ACLU of Maryland, black residents in Montgomery County were 3.2 times more likely to be arrested for simple marijuana possession than white residents.

In 2010, 18 percent of the county’s population was black, but 46 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in the county were black.

“This highlights racial disparities that continue to exist in our society 50 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act,” said resolution sponsor Nancy Navarro. “There is a connection to issues of social justice as well as proportionality that are related.”

Navarro also criticized Republican Congressman Andy Harris, a member of the House from the Eastern Shore who in the past few weeks has attempted to reverse the District of Columbia’s move to decriminalize marijuana.

“It’s shameful and should not be tolerated,” Navarro said.

Dyer is a longshot candidate who got 11,098 votes in June’s Republican primary. All four Republican at-large Council candidates will be on the November gubernatorial election ballot. Dyer said marijuana has been proven to cause impaired driving and act as a gateway drug to prescription drug and heroin abuse.

The Bethesda resident, blogger and self-proclaimed recording artist was the lead vote-getter among Republicans running for an at-large Council seat with 16,107 votes in the 2010 primary. In the general election, he got 82,773 votes, about 8 percent and less than half as much as Hans Riemer, the fourth-leading vote-getter for the four at-large Council seats.

That hasn’t stopped Dyer from needling the county’s Democratic political leadership. In February, he released a 15-minute, homemade video announcing his candidacy and comparing the Council’s economic development performance to the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s.”

In his press release Tuesday, Dyer said Fairfax County, “which has moved ahead of Montgomery County in jobs and economic development,” has not decriminalized the possession of marijuana and paraphernalia.

Dyer also seemed to endorse the policing practice of “stop and frisk,” the controversial New York City concept that a federal judge ruled violated the constitutional rights of minorities.

“The last thing Montgomery County needs is a greater customer base for illegal drugs,” Dyer said. “That would bring more drug dealers, drug addiction and violence into our county.”

Upon introducing the resolution in June, Navarro said the Council got input and support from Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger and McCarthy.

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