As marijuana legalization legislation advances in Maryland, a new poll shows that there’s majority support for the reform among adults, including most Republicans. And support for legalization far outpaces President Joe Biden’s job performance approval rating in the state.
The survey from Goucher College, which was released on Monday, found that 62 percent of Maryland residents back cannabis legalization. That includes 65 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) enjoys popularity in the state, with a 65 percent approval rating. But Biden’s job performance approval sits at just 48 percent, with only a major if Democrats saying he’s doing an effective job.
In other words, support for marijuana legalization is 14 percentage points higher than support for the president.
The poll involved interviews with 635 Maryland adults from March 1-6. The margin of error of was +/-3.9 percentage points.
There are at least five competing cannabis reform bills in play this session in the Maryland legislature.
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The House of Delegates passed legislation last month that would ask voters whether to legalize cannabis for adults in the state, as well as a separate bill that lays out related criminal justice reforms. On the Senate side, two competing proposals have been introduced and are pending in committee.
One of the Senate bills would legalize cannabis directly later this year. Then there’s another voter referendum measure that includes a more comprehensive regulatory scheme than what’s detailed in the House-approved plan.
The Senate Finance considered both Senate proposals earlier this month but did not vote on either bill.
At a press conference this month, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D) took questions from reporters on the competing plans. He said that if lawmakers decide to move forward with a ballot referendum, they owe voters a better idea of what the new system would look like than what his colleagues in the other chamber have provided.
“It wouldn’t be my first choice,” Ferguson said of putting the proposed constitutional amendment to voters. “But what’s most important [is] if it does go to voters, they have to know what they’re voting on. They have to have an idea of what the framework would look like.”
“Are we protecting public health?” he asked. “Are we making sure that we are ending the war on drugs, which has been absolutely devastating to communities, and doing it in a way that if an industry moves forward, that there is an equitable opportunity to participate in the marketplace?
“I think we can get there this year,” he continued.
Maryland’s legislative session is scheduled to end on April 11.
Last year, Ferguson said he believed lawmakers should skip the ballot step entirely and legalize cannabis by statute. But he indicated at the press event that he was warming to the idea of a voter-approved constitutional amendment.
The Senate “feels comfortable” moving forward with legalization without resorting to a referendum, he explained, “but we’re open to the conversation because we respect the other chamber and the position of the other chamber, and we will see where we land by the end of the session.”
House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D), who formed a legalization working group last summer to study the issue, has said the decision should be left to Marylanders.
Under both the House’s and Senate’s proposed constitutional amendments, legalization would not take effect until July 2023. If passed, an amendment would not require Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature. Hogan has not endorsed legalization but has signaled he may be open to considering the idea.
Last legislative session, Sen. Brian Feldman (D) was a lead author on a different legalization bill that was co-sponsored by Senate President Ferguson. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on that proposal last March, but ultimately no votes were held. That followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal in February.
On the House side, Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who is sponsoring the legalization bills that cleared the chamber, said this month that the House’s passage of the legislation marked “the beginning of an important process where we begin to look again at how we have treated this substance, cannabis.”
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. Since then, however, a number of efforts to further marijuana reform have fallen short.
A bill to expand the decriminalization possession threshold to an ounce passed the House in 2020 but was never taken up in the Senate.
Outside of Maryland, there’s also ample polling showing support for legalization.
A strong majority of Wisconsin voters support legalizing marijuana, according to a recent poll. And that includes a majority of Republican voters who now say cannabis prohibition should end, even as GOP leaders have proactively blocked the reform in the legislature.
A slim majority of Ohio voters would support marijuana legalization at the ballot, according to another survey.
About three-fourths of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana possession for adult use, including strong bipartisan majorities.
Meanwhile, a poll released in January shows that more than half of Americans feel that Biden has made little to no progress on a key campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana during his first year in office—and most people also aren’t betting on him doing more to advance the reform in 2022.