Ivan Bates is Baltimore’s New State’s Attorney

New Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates was privately sworn in on Monday, January 2, with a public ceremony taking place the following day at the War Memorial Building downtown.

Bates defeated former State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in the primary election last summer. During her time in office, Mosby achieved national and international fame for her decision to prosecute six Baltimore City Police officers for the 2015 death of Freddie Gray. Gray died of injuries sustained after being apprehended by Baltimore officers. Throughout her two terms in office, Mosby sought to brand herself as a progressive prosecutor. During his January 3 inaugural address, Bates signaled a departure from all that.

“There was a non-prosecution policy on low-level offenses by the last administration. Effective right now, this moment and second, I recall that policy,” Bates said. Attendees, including politicians, judges, and other local leaders, whistled and applauded. “Simply put, my office will start holding people accountable for ‘quality of life’ crimes.”

Bates also used the address to signal to local police, who are still under a federal consent decree for violating the rights of Black Baltimore citizens, that he wanted them to feel free to use the full powers of their position.

“As of today, I want to look at the commissioner and all the police officers in the city. Any and all laws that are on the books, you always had a right to enforce them, but as the state’s attorney, I will ask you to please go ahead and enforce them,” he said. “To use the laws and the tools in your toolbox and do the job.” 

Bates also said that he’s looking for a return to mandatory minimum sentencing for gun law violations.

Bates comes into power at a time when many Democrat and Republican leaders on both the local and national level are embracing the police enthusiastically, even as the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement continue. He also faces an electorate tired of feeling unsafe and ready for real solutions—just one day after Bates was sworn in at the Baltimore War Memorial, five teenagers were shot at Edmondson Village Shopping Center, and 16-year-old Deanta Dorsey lost his life.

Bates indicated in his address that he would accomplish a law-enforcement driven violence reduction without returning to the days of the kind of Black overincarceration that not only broke people and families, but did not actually solve crime.

“Let’s be clear, as a Black man, I witnessed the criminal justice system unfairly incarcerate Black men and women at a staggering level,” he said. 

Minimum Wage Increased

The new year meant a raise in the minimum wage for workers in Maryland—from $12.50 to $13.25 an hour. 

The change comes from 2019 legislation sponsored by Maryland Senator Cory McCray and state delegate Diana Fennell. At the time, the lowest amount bosses could legally pay their employees was just $10.10.

The minimum wage will increase to $14 on January 1, 2024, and then $15 in 2025, but Maryland Governor-elect Wes Moore has said he would like to accelerate that so that Marylanders see more money sooner.

“The fact that we are talking about putting together a $15 minimum wage by 2025 is absurd,” Moore said of the state’s current policy. “It will not [take] until 2025 in my administration. It’s something that Maryland should have already had done,” Moore told Maryland Matters in 2021.

“We’re making progress in the #FightForFifteen and will make significant strides this session, as Governor-elect @iamwesmoore is committed to raising the minimum wage..and expeditiously,” McCray said in a social media post about the increase earlier this month.

A study published by the Missouri Economic Resource and Information Center examined the cost of living in the United States for the third quarter of 2022 and found that Maryland is the seventh most expensive state in the country. 

Transitional Period for Weed

Back in November, Maryland voters approved a ballot referendum that would allow adults 21 and older to possess a “personal use” amount of cannabis. According to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, beginning July 1, 2023, Maryland residents will be able to possess and consume up to “1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis, or a total amount of cannabis products that does not exceed 750 mg THC”. Now, the state is moving forward with making this a reality.

On January 1, the state entered a so-called transitional period, which began the process of relaxing previous laws governing the use and possession of weed. 

“If you’re caught between now and July 1 with one and a half ounces of marijuana, you will only get a civil offense with a maximum fine of up to $100,” reported WMAR 2 News. “If you have between one and a half and two ounces, you can get fined up to $250. More than that, it’s a misdemeanor with up to six months in jail and or a $1,000 fine.”