Maryland legislators are holding hearings to discuss the possibility of putting legal cannabis on the ballot come November, although it seems unlikely that sales would commence before 2024 at the earliest.
The state of Maryland has had a long history with marijuana legislation and widespread access to cannabis products. Maryland’s 2014 passage of House Bill 881 established the legalization of medical cannabis, but there have been many other pushes for broader commercial marijuana access set in place since the passing of this landmark bill.
Marylanders’ support of cannabis legalization and access to commercial marijuana for recreational use has risen in recent years. At the time of the bill’s passing in 2014, 54% of Maryland residents were in favor of legalization, a figure which rose to 61% in 2016, according to numbers from the University of Maryland.
HB 881 in 2014 was a significant stride in the journey towards marijuana legalization in two main ways. First, it established the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, or MMCC. This commission is a legislative body responsible for proposing cannabis policy reform and means of enforcing it. HB 881 also introduced new federal regulations for the way medical marijuana is processed, sold, consumed, and cultivated in the state of Maryland. One important distinction that this bill sought to highlight was the fact that it considered marijuana possession a civil infraction instead of a criminal charge if the amount possessed was under the federal limit of 10g.
Although HB 881 was important in the push for access to commercial marijuana in Maryland, the 2016 passing of Senate Bill 517 took the state’s cannabis policy reform a step further. The bill, passed by the Maryland General Assembly, decriminalized the public smoking of marijuana and the possession of all marijuana paraphernalia (such as bongs, pipes, and cigarette papers). Although neither action was fully legalized, this bill no longer considered them criminal charges but civil offenses punishable by a fine of up to $500 at the most.
In 2017, the MMCC allowed Maryland residents who had been approved by doctors to register with the state in order to be given access to medical marijuana. While this still was not the broad access to commercial cannabis for which many marijuana activists advocate, this significantly expanded the medical marijuana sector, which grew to include over 50,000 registered patients, 18 growers, and 85 dispensaries.
In November of 2021, these numbers grew significantly; the MMCC reported roughly $600 million in projected retail for 2021 and approximately 150,000 registered patients. Lawmakers and consumers alike recognized the growing opportunities for access to commercial marijuana and adult recreational use of cannabis products.
With the success of the medical marijuana market came an increased interest in widespread commercial access to cannabis products in the state of Maryland. In 2019, one of the Maryland General Assembly task forces, the Marijuana Legalization Workgroup, introduced House Bill 32, which sought to legalize recreational marijuana and expunge prior cannabis-related convictions for adults aged 21 years and older.
MLW Delegate Jazz Lewis discussed the bill, calling it Maryland’s “best chance to give justice to those incarcerated and create a new open cannabis industry” in a 2021 tweet. Because it was only ever heard in committee, the bill was never voted on in session in 2020. Lewis has worked hard to bring it to the floor in more recent years, offering HB 32 as a chance to expand Marylanders’ access to commercial marijuana products.
In July of 2021, Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones proposed a referendum to determine whether cannabis products would be legalized in the state of Maryland. “The voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” Speaker Jones said in a press release. “The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to State law now.”
Most recently, Maryland State Delegate Luke Clippinger has introduced a bill to present voters with the legalization issue on the 2022 ballot. The bill, HB 1, was introduced in January of 2022 and would give voters the opportunity to vote on whether or not they favored the legalization of adult use, recreational marijuana in Maryland.
Clippinger defended HB 1 alongside HB 837 (a bill which proposed cannabis policy reform) in February of 2022, calling the proposed pieces of legislation “one step closer to delivering on the promise to end the war on cannabis in Maryland.” The bill has since passed, and voters will have the chance to voice their opinions in the midterm elections in the fall of 2022.
If voters approve of legalization, it will be up to lawmakers in the 2023 session to come up with regulations for the distribution, sale, taxation, possession, and use of recreational marijuana in the state of Maryland. Clippinger, Chair of the Maryland Judiciary Committee, has spoken out about the House Cannabis Legalization Workgroup, claiming that their goal now is to “provide an overview on the regulatory and licensing aspects of cannabis legalization” in a June tweet.
Part of these federal regulations includes securing funding for such an ambitious project as this one. Lawmakers in favor of legalization cite a $4.6 billion surplus in the 2022 state budget as a perfect solution to this issue. In February of this year, lawmakers outlined their specific agenda for legalization, the most notable aspect being recreational access to marijuana for adults 21 and over.
If voters are in support, this legislation could be signed into law as early as July of 2023. Lawmakers are also exploring options for implementing a regulatory framework in place without a constitutional amendment, but they are more likely to move forward with voters’ support.
Although there are many decisions to be made before adults are able to access marijuana commercially and recreationally use cannabis products in the state of Maryland, groups like the MMCC and House Cannabis Legalization Workgroup have made strides and offered viable solutions for broader decriminalization and legalization in the state. Only time– and the 2022 elections– will tell whether the people of Maryland are in support of broader recreational access to cannabis products, as well.