The social justice agenda has not been completed, even though we scored some remarkable successes in 2013. Improved gun control laws, the toughest in the nation, along with repeal of the death penalty highlighted the last session.
More needs to be done, starting with the decriminalization of marijuana possession and planning a move towards legalization, regulation and taxation similar to that used for alcohol. The entire “War on Drugs” effort needs to be reviewed, with the goal of not only making Maryland safer but setting a national example. Drug use should be viewed as a public health problem, and a “harm reduction” protocol instituted, rather than applying “law & order” policies as the first line of response. This will help us significantly reduce our prison population, one of the highest per capita in the world, and one which is predominantly populated by persons of color, who are disproportionately targeted in our misguided efforts to control drug use.
We must devote more efforts to the care and treatment of those who are diagnosed with mental illness, and assist their families in that care. Many persons who should be hospitalized or in intensive outpatient treatment end up in jail, because that’s the only place they can obtain their medications. Money needs to be spent on housing for those who cannot manage on their own.
Similarly, transitional housing is needed, along with adequately financed substance abuse and mental health treatment programs for ex-offenders. Re-entry into society is a complex issue which needs attention from the top level in our government, with a Deputy Secretary responsible for re-entry programs. We cannot expect ex-offenders to reintegrate into society unless we allow them to redeem themselves, so efforts must be made to shield non-violent ex-offenders from intrusive background checks which perpetuate the stigma they already carry.
We need to stand by our commitments to help those with developmental disabilities and their families. Tax dollars pledged to their support must continue to be funneled into those programs and not diverted elsewhere.
Finally, we must complete the basic LGBT civil rights agenda by passing a comprehensive gender identity law, covering housing and public accommodations as well as employment. The state of Maryland should follow the lead of both our largest local jurisdictions, such as Montgomery and Baltimore counties, as well as the federal government which has extended employment protections to the transgender community under Title VII. And then we must ensure that these laws are implemented, so all can lead safe and productive lives.