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Maryland’s pro-weed campaign heats up ahead of election

Cannabis reform activists in Maryland are actively campaigning for voters to pass the Marijuana Legalization Amendment, or Question 4, when they head to the polls on November 8th.

As noted by Kyle Jaeger in Marijuana Moment, the MDCAN 22 “Vote Yes on 4” campaign launched on September 8th, selling the ballot measure as both an economic boon for the state and a means to repair the damage done by drug prohibition to the state’s most vulnerable minority populations.

The campaign operates with financial backing from the company Trulieve, which donated $50,000 for publicity and activism efforts. Trulieve owns cannabis dispensaries in several states and is also a heavy supporter of similar campaign efforts in Florida.

Former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe is the celebrity chair and spokesperson for “Yes on 4.” Monroe is an outspoken supporter of cannabis and has publicly challenged the NFL for its strict policies concerning marijuana use. Additionally, as detailed by Tony Lange in Cannabis Business Times, Monroe is the CEO of a group called Heart Community Capital, which is committed to the creation and support of Black-owned cannabis businesses.

The “Yes on 4” campaign launched with a website and a video. The website lists three primary goals for the campaign: “Demystify Cannabis,” “Demonstrate Support for Legalization,” and “Legalize Cannabis.” A campaign ad on the site urges voters to “LEGALIZE ADULT USE CANNABIS for a boost in our state economy, a healthier community, and a more just Maryland.”

On the economic front, the campaign website points to an estimated annual tax revenue for the state of more than $135 million. It argues that legalization would make communities safer by allowing law enforcement to focus their energy on fighting violent crime rather than enforcing drug policies or pursuing non-violent offenders.

Additionally, the campaign’s website emphasizes that prohibitive marijuana policies have disproportionately impacted people of color in Maryland and argues that passing Question 4 is a matter of “racial equity” since “black people are twice more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people” in the state of Maryland.

In a quote posted to the campaign’s website, Eugene Monroe argues that “Passing Question 4 will put an end to the failed criminalization of cannabis, create a well-regulated legal marijuana market centered around equity, and open up new doors for local entrepreneurs and small business owners. I hope every Marylander will vote yes on Question 4 this November.”

State government supporters of “Yes on 4,” as highlighted in Ballotopedia’s article about the legislation, include Democratic State Delegate Luke Clippinger, Democratic State Senator William Ferguson IV, and Democratic State Delegate Adrienne Jones. Delegate Luke Clippinger is responsible for introducing Question 4 as House Bill 1 in January of 2022.

On the other side of the issue, Republican State Senator J.B. Jennings has argued against the Marijuana Legalization Amendment, saying, “I just don’t think it should be in the Constitution.” Additionally, all Republicans voted against House Bill 1 in the Senate, and all but one Republican voted against it in the House. Conversely, only two Democrats in the Senate and two in the House voted against the bill.

Maryland is the second state, after New Jersey, in which the state legislature passed a bill approving a ballot measure allowing voters to decide on the question of marijuana legalization. Other states have relied upon activist groups to collect the signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot.

Voters will have the option to vote “yes” or “no” on Question 4 in November. A “yes” vote “supports legalizing marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older beginning in July 2023 and directing the Maryland State Legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of marijuana.”

If passed, Question 4 will result in the addition of Article XX to the Maryland Constitution, which will legalize the use and possession of marijuana for adults aged 21 or older. The passage of the amendment will also trigger the implementation of additional legislation outlined in House Bill 837.

Question 4 does not immediately legalize consumption and possession. Instead, the accompanying legislation in House Bill 837 provides a gradual pathway from decriminalization in January through June to legalization beginning in July of 2023. On July 1st, possession of up to 1.5 ounces and two cannabis plants will be legal.

Additionally, House Bill 837 will expunge past convictions for any offenses that would no longer be considered illegal under the new laws. Resentencing requests will be available to those currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses.

It’s also important to note that neither Question 4 nor House Bill 837 will legalize the sale or distribution of marijuana. Instead, the legislation mandates further cannabis research and calls upon the state legislature to pass future laws and regulations concerning sale and distribution. Perhaps with the assumption that sale and distribution will soon become legal, House Bill 837 also mandates the creation of a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund and a Cannabis Public Health Fund, as explained by Karina Elwood in the Washington Post.

Activists are hopeful that “Yes on 4” will be successful in November and that Maryland residents will vote for legalization, as polls suggest they will. The Goucher College Poll from March of 2022 reported that 62% of Maryland residents support the legalization of recreational cannabis, while 34% of residents oppose legalization. The poll also found that 65% of Democrats, 65% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans support marijuana legalization in Maryland. The survey included a total of 635 Maryland adults.

Maryland joins at least three other states that will be deciding on some version of cannabis legalization in the upcoming election. Per Kyle Jaeger in Marijuana Moment, these states include Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Voters in Arkansas and Oklahoma await court decisions as to whether the legalization question will appear on ballots. Additionally, five cities in Texas and seven cities in Ohio are slated to vote on decriminalization measures this year.

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