Maryland’s House of Delegates on Friday passed bills to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot and set the initial rules if voters approve the reform in November.
The chamber had debated the proposals, rejected several GOP-led amendments and advanced them to third reading on Wednesday. Now lawmakers have given the final say on the referendum and implementing measures — by votes of 96-34 and 92-37, respectfully — by sending them to the Senate.
“We’re at the start of an important process where we’re starting to review how we’ve dealt with this substance, cannabis,” Del said. Luke Clippinger (D), sponsor of both bills, before the floor vote.
He said lawmakers need to reconsider the “thousands of people we’ve incarcerated” because of marijuana, arguing that “those thousands of incarcerations haven’t made us any safer.”
Clippinger is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which reported favorably on the bills last week. He also led a marijuana task force that House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D) formed last summer to study the issue.
The first of the president’s proposals, HB 1, would ask voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution to legalize the use and possession of cannabis by adults 21 years of age or older. It would further require lawmakers to establish laws to “provide for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”
After the passage of HB 1 (cannabis referendum), the debate for the final passage of HB 837 (cannabis reform) now begins on the floor of the House of Delegates. Join us: https://t.co/XZZ94rp9vK https://t.co/oZrM9GJucF
— Luke Clippinger (@LukeClippinger) February 25, 2022
Clippinger’s second measure, HB 837, is designed to set initial rules for a legal marijuana market if voters approve the policy change.
It clarifies that the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be legal for adults, and it would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults 21 and older would be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without compensation.
Previous convictions for conduct made lawful under the proposed law would be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses would be eligible for a new sentence. The legislation means that those convicted of possession with intent to distribute can now apply to the courts for expungement three years after serving their sentence.
It would also establish a Cannabis Business Relief Fund to support equity initiatives for minority and women-owned businesses. This fund would be earmarked for incubators and educational programs aimed at promoting the participation in the industry of those most affected by criminalization.
To understand the effects of legalization on the state and its residents, the bill would also establish various research initiatives, including studies on youth impacts, usage patterns, impaired driving, advertising, labelling, product quality control and barriers to entry into the industry. A baseline study would be conducted before legalization and updates would be sent to the governor every two months.
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“Marylanders have fought year after year for fair cannabis legalization, and this milestone is an indication that the era of prohibition is finally coming to an end,” said Olivia Naugle, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, at Marijuana Moment. “We commend House Speaker Adrienne Jones for prioritizing cannabis legalization efforts this year. With legislative leaders acting on this issue, Maryland is well positioned to pass cannabis legalization legislation in 2022.”
If voters approve the legalization in November, it will not take effect immediately. Possession of small amounts of cannabis would become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, punishable by a fine of $100 for up to 1.5 ounces, or $250 for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2, 5 oz. Legalization up to 1.5 ounces would not occur for six months.
The defenders challenged this interminable delay.
House Bill 1, putting a question on the ballot this fall legalizing recreational cannabis in Maryland, passed the House with an overwhelming majority!
— Delegate Eric Luedtke (@EricLuedtke) February 25, 2022
Clippinger and other lawmakers have signaled they want to tackle comprehensive regulation for an adult-use marijuana market next year after voters weighed in on the issue on the ballot.
During Wednesday’s initial floor consideration of the second-reading bills, the House Minority Leader and other GOP members attempted to attach several amendments to the proposals to make them more restrictive. All of the amendments, including one that would have allowed local governments to opt out of legalization and continue to criminalize people for cannabis, were defeated.
Meanwhile, there are at least three other competing legalization bills that have been introduced in the state legislature this session.
On the Senate side, meanwhile, Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D) introduced SB 833 earlier this month, which would also ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for adults. This measure, like Clippinger’s plan, would be put to voters in November and take effect in July 2023.
— MD House Democrats (@mdhousedems) February 25, 2022
Feldman’s 83-page bill would allow home cultivation of up to four plants per adult, with a maximum of eight plants per residence. It would also consolidate the constitutional amendment and basic regulatory framework into a single piece of legislation, unlike Clippinger’s bifurcated package.
Feldman was a lead sponsor of a separate legalization measure last year that was co-sponsored by Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D).
Ferguson, for his part, said last year that he favored legalizing cannabis through the legislature rather than waiting to ask voters in the November ballot.
With the support of my colleagues, HB 1 (cannabis referendum) and HB 837 (cannabis reform) rolled out of the House of Delegates!
I look forward to working with the Senate to move these bills forward and fulfill our commitment to legalize cannabis in this state. pic.twitter.com/NU4U23fy8r
— Luke Clippinger (@LukeClippinger) February 25, 2022
Another Senate bill in play this session, SB 692, by Sen. Jill Carter (D), would set higher possession amounts of up to four ounces of marijuana and allow home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants. Possession beyond those limits would result in no more than a $150 fine, and prior criminal records would be expunged for certain cannabis-related charges.
The two Senate bills are scheduled to be discussed March 3 in the Senate Finance Committee.
A competing legalization bill on the House side, HB 1342, was introduced earlier this month by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D). He has a hearing on March 8.
Cannabis legalization without a fair framework is not progressive policy.
Legalizing cannabis without reparations for communities harmed by the intentional war on drugs is not progressive policy.
The communities in the center are the most affected.
HB 837 falls short of that and I voted NO ❌
– Of the. Gabriel Acevero (@GabrielAcevero) February 25, 2022
Legalization began to move forward in the Maryland legislature during the last session, but no vote ultimately took place. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last March on a legalization bill sponsored by Feldman and Ferguson. This followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal in February.
Lawmakers then worked to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate proposals in hopes of getting something out of Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk. Hogan did not approve of legalization but signaled that he might be open to the idea.
A poll in October found that state residents agreed with the policy change. According to a Goucher College survey, two-thirds (67%) of Marylanders now support the legalization of cannabis. Only 28% oppose it.
Maryland legalized medical marijuana through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams with a civil fine of 100 to 500 dollars. Since then, however, a number of efforts to pursue marijuana reform have failed.
A bill to expand the possession threshold for decriminalization to one ounce passed the House in 2020 but was never taken up in the Senate.
Also that year, the governor vetoed a bill that would have protected people with low-level cannabis convictions from having their records published in a state database. In a veto statement, he said it was because lawmakers failed to pass a separate non-cannabis measure aimed at tackling violent crime.
In 2017, Hogan declined to answer a question about whether voters should be able to decide the issue, but by mid-2018 he had signed a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana system. State and said full legalization was worth considering: “At this point, I think it’s worth taking a look at,” he said at the time.
As for Maryland lawmakers, a House committee in 2019 held hearings on two bills that would have legalized marijuana. Although these proposals did not pass, they encouraged many hesitant lawmakers to start seriously considering change.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.