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Maryland Lawmakers Hold First Committee Hearing On Marijuana Legalization

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The issue of legalizing marijuana in Maryland had its first committee hearing on Tuesday, with lawmakers considering a bill to regulate adult-use cannabis and earmark large portions of industry tax revenue for programs aimed at communities disproportionately harmed by the drug war.

“This bill ends Maryland’s failed policy of cannabis prohibition and replaces it with a system to test and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older,” Del. Jazz Lewis (D), the sponsor of HB 32, said at the House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The measure “takes marijuana production and sales off the streets and ensures regulated, labeled, lab-tested products while creating thousands of new good jobs, businesses and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue to serve the community,” Lewis said.

The House panel heard more than two hours of testimony and debate on the bill at Tuesday’s hearing but ultimately did not vote on whether to advance the measure.

HB 32 is one of two marijuana legalization measures before Maryland lawmakers this year. The other is SB 708, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Vice Chair Brian Feldman (D) and cosponsored by top Senate Democrats including the body’s president and majority leader. That measure is scheduled to be heard by a Senate committee on March 4.

Lewis said when he filed the bill in December that he introduced the legislation “because we have the data and popular opinion on our side to end prohibition.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Lewis announced amendments meant to harmonize his proposal with the Senate legislation. Among the biggest changes, are decreased taxes and cutting the maximum number of marijuana retail licenses in half, from 200 to 100.

The biggest remaining difference between the two chambers’ bills, Lewis said, is that HB 32 would allow state regulators to issue an unlimited number of microbusiness licenses despite limits on medium and large business licenses. “That’s something that’s critically important to the independent dispensaries in order to survive competing with the vertically aligned businesses,” he said.

With the proposed changes, the bill would legalize possession of up to four ounces of marijuana—up from two in order to match the Senate bill—as well as home cultivation for personal use. Individuals with past convictions for low-level cannabis activity would see those records expunged, and people currently incarcerated for cannabis crimes would be resentenced or released.

Revenue from the newly legal industry is expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars during the program’s early years and continue growing as the market matures. Nearly two-thirds of that revenue, 63 percent, will go to a community reinvestment fund, which would support programs to address the effects of poverty, mass incarceration and racism.

Additional money would go to the Maryland’s general fund, the state’s Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), substance abuse treatment, cannabis research and educational outreach, especially to encourage youth not to use the drug.

The bill would also allow existing medical marijuana businesses to enter the adult-use market early, although they would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in registration fees. That money would establish a social equity startup fund, which would provide capital and other resources to equity applicants looking to enter the industry.

“Let’s be clear: 30 percent of Maryland is Black,” Lewis said at Tuesday’s hearing. “We need to put our money where our mouth is.”

A number of lawmakers on the committee, as well as advocates who spoke in favor of HB 32, praised the measure’s strong focus equity, both in terms of criminal justice and when it comes to building a diverse legal industry.

“I personally would not support anything that did not have some protections for Black people being able to participate in this industry,” said committee Vice Chair Vanessa Atterbeary (D).

Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP and the Democratic candidate for Maryland governor in 2018, told the panel that “it is rare that you all have an opportunity to create an industry and, in the process, right past wrongs and create a more inclusive economy.”

Others who testified in support of the measure applauded its equity goals but suggested amendments to strengthen protections for small and minority-owned businesses. Hope Wiseman, CEO of Mary and Main, one of the state’s only Black-owned medical marijuana dispensaries, suggested that registration fees be adjusted to reflect that some type of businesses are more lucrative than others. Wiseman suggested a system with “growers paying the most, then processors, then dispensaries, as this is based on the amount of revenue that each license type generally makes.”

Skeptical lawmakers on the House panel pressed supporters on an array of typical legalization concerns, such as public consumption (which would remain illegal under the bill), driving under the influence of cannabis (also already illegal) and whether state-level legalization would interfere with employers screening workers for drug use (it wouldn’t).

Del. Mike Griffith (R), worried that legalizing THC-infused edibles would lead to increased use among youth. “My six year old would see an edible candy bar, wouldn’t know the difference, and would go to town,” he said.

Olivia Naugle, legislative analyst for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), replied that evidence from the first few U.S. states that legalized marijuana indicates youth use has actually fallen. “Colorado and Washington have both conducted large-scale surveys with thousands of high-school students since both states legalized cannabis in 2012, and those results have actually shown modest decreases in rates of youth cannabis use.” Naugle said. “I think regulating cannabis really sends a message to youth that marijuana is for adults, and for adults to use responsibly.”

Del. Ron Watson (D), who indicated he supports the bill, asked why its expungement provisions wouldn’t apply to people convicted of selling small amounts of marijuana. “It seems like everybody’s taken care of except the sales guy or gal,” he said.

Lewis replied that “I would gladly clear it all” but acknowledged that there would likely be disagreement over where to draw the line: “I imagine there may be some difference of opinion as to, you know, at what level someone moves from being a corner boy to being something more.”

Other lawmakers quizzed Lewis on how “equity” would be defined and who specifically would benefit under the proposal. “What if you’re just Black and live in the suburbs?” Atterbeary asked.

Lewis said three groups currently would qualify for equity benefits under the current bill: people formerly incarcerated on a cannabis-related charge or their family members, people who live in areas where data shows disproportionate policing of laws against cannabis and/or people who are racial minorities in the state.

He added that supporters have written to the state attorney general’s office to make sure those rules—specifically around race-based eligibility—are constitutional. “We’re waiting for that to come back right now,” Lewis said.

The bill would also reserve control of certain ancillary businesses, such as security and delivery services, exclusively for equity applicants.

Rajani Gudlavalleti, a member of the executive leadership team at the Baltimore Harm Control Coalition, told the panel that legalization and social equity measures are essential to undo drug-war harms and build healthy communities.

“Our vision for a healthier world requires a model of cannabis legalization that includes strategies for repair from the impacts of the drug war in communities of color,” Gudlavelleti said, “and so that is why Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition supports HB 32.”

The legalization bill would leave the state’s medical marijuana system unchanged, creating a separate agency to oversee the adult-use market. William Tilburg, executive director of the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission, which has not taken a position on the legislation, said that approach “quite literally doubles administrative costs to the state” and urged the two systems be overseen by a common regulator.

At one point in the hearing, Lewis announced that the Maryland Department of Health had endorsed the legalization plan, but he later told Marijuana Moment the claim was the result of miscommunication from a staffer at the department, who initially indicated in a text message to the lawmaker that it would “testify in support of” the bill.

A representative for the Department of Health told Marijuana Moment that the agency signed up as an “information” witness and took no position on the bill itself.

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 last year to expand the decriminalization possession threshold to an ounce passed the House last year but was never taken up in the Senate.

In May, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a bill that would have shielded people with low-level cannabis convictions from having their records publicized on a state database. In a veto statement, he said it was because lawmakers failed to pass a separate, non-cannabis measure aimed at addressing violent crime.

Hogan has hesitated to take a strong stand on marijuana in the past, though he’s more recently signaled openness to the idea. In 2017, he declined to respond to 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 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. While those proposals didn’t pass, they encouraged many hesitant lawmakers to begin seriously considering the change.

Atterbeary, who was also at Tuesday’s hearing, said at the prior hearings that she had been “fundamentally opposed” to legalization in previous years but was increasingly “in the mindset that it’s been growing on me.”

In a statement to Marijuana Moment after Tuesday’s hearing, Naugle at MPP applauded Lewis for his leadership on HB 32. Passing the measure “would save thousands of Marylanders—disproportionately Black Marylanders—from arrests and criminal convictions.”

“There are now 15 states that have ended cannabis prohibition,” she added, noting that conservative states such as Montana and South Dakota have also passed legalization laws. “Maryland should follow suit by passing HB 32 this session. This is a just, equitable cannabis policy that Maryland could be proud of and be a leader to other states.”

Lawmakers And Advocates Urge Biden To Grant Marijuana Clemency In Presidents Day Push

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears 12th And Final House Committee, Advancing To The Floor

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota has been approved by its final House committee and will now advance to the floor.

The road to get to this position has been long and winding, with 12 panels hearing and voting on the measure since it was introduced in February.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the proposal, which would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

Members of the House Ways & Means Committee approved the legislation in a 16-10 vote on Friday.

Winkler previously said that he expects a floor vote this month, though that has yet to be scheduled. The legislature is slated to adjourn on May 17.

The bill “helps to correct wrongs that have been done for too long in Minnesota to communities who’ve been over-policed who have been targeted for cannabis enforcement to further a prohibition of cannabis that does not work,” the majority leader said in opening remarks.

Winkler said that “legalizing and creating a safe marketplace by taxing cannabis and using the proceeds from those taxes to pay for cannabis regulation to help invest in a cannabis industry” would reflect “the values of Minnesotans and help to address the harm that is caused by cannabis prohibition on our black and brown communities.”

The panel adopted an amendment from Winkler that expands the definition of social equity applicants to include those from communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition and makes changes to how regulators would address rules violations by businesses. It would also revise the amount of funding for various state agencies, including a reduction in appropriations for the Department of Corrections.

A proposal to require that the label on marijuana products include information about the maximum dose that is considered safe within a 24-hour period was also approved.

An additional amendment that would have required marijuana products to be labeled with a warning that cannabis remains illegal under federal law was rejected.

Prior to taking up the legalization bill, members adopted an amendment to separate budget legislation that would provide funding for the implementation of the cannabis program for the first biennium, after which time marijuana tax revenue would more than cover costs.

It the measure does clear the full House chamber, it’s still expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

That said, a GOP member of the Taxes Committee, which approved the legalization bill on Wednesday, indicated that he felt an amendment he introduced and that was adopted could bolster Republican support.

That revision from Rep. Pat Garofolo (R) directs remaining cannabis revenue to a tax relief account after implementation costs are covered and substance misuse treatment and prevention programs are funded.

“The adoption of this amendment is a gamechanger,” Garofalo said in a press release. “The Democrat majority accepting this amendment means that if signed into law, this bill will result in lowering taxes Minnesotans are FORCED to pay, financed with the revenue generated from taxes that people are CHOOSING to pay.”

Before the Taxes Committee, the bill passed the Health Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy CommitteeEducation Finance CommitteeState Government Finance and Elections CommitteeJudiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.

“At the beginning of the year, a House committee had never passed a legalization bill. Now, we’re on the verge of passing a bill off the House floor,” Winkler said in an email to supporters on Friday. “We have the ability to change laws in a way that improves people’s lives, whether it’s expunging cannabis-related records, targeting economic opportunity for those impacted most by the war on drugs, providing relief for veterans suffering from PTSD and serious health conditions, and more.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The litany of committees the bill has gone through makes it perhaps the most thoroughly vetted legalization measure to move through a state legislature—and it means that a solid portion of the House has already had the chance to review, propose amendments to and vote on the legislation it as it advances to the floor, presumably increasing its chances of passage in the chamber.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Wisconsin Governor’s Marijuana Legalization Proposal Stripped From Budget By GOP-Led Committee

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Feds Announce New Standard THC Dose To Be Used In Marijuana Research, Effective Immediately

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A top federal health agency announced on Friday that it has determined the standard dose of THC that should be used for marijuana studies moving forward.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) said in a notice to researchers that there is a “new requirement to measure and report results using a standard THC unit in all applicable human subjects’ research,” which is effective immediately. That standard unit is five milligrams of THC.

NIDA said that inconsistencies in measuring and reporting THC exposure “has been a major limitation in studies of cannabis use, making it difficult to compare findings among studies.” Therefore, a “standardized measure of THC in cannabis products is necessary to advance research by providing greater comparability across studies of both its adverse effects and potential medical uses.”

The agency recognized, however, that “the same quantity of THC may have different effects based on route of administration, other product constituents, an individual’s genetic make-up and metabolic factors, prior exposure to cannabis, and other factors.”

But by creating a standard THC dose, it will nonetheless be easier to compare studies that involve THC exposure, which is a “high priority” of NIDA and the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.

“It is not the intent of this Notice to prescribe the quantity of THC that is permissible for use in research projects. Indeed, investigators are free to use more or less than 5mg of THC as appropriate for their study,” the notice states. “However, for applicable studies, investigators will be required to report the quantity of THC using the standard unit. Investigators may also report the quantity of THC in other units (e.g., milligrams) as appropriate.”

This comes one year after NIDA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, first solicited feedback on a proposal to standardize THC content in cannabis research.

The agency said that it carried out “extensive stakeholder input,” along with “consultation with experts in the field,” to arrive at the decision to set the standard unit at 5 mg.

“This guidance will apply to applications where THC is a focus of the research,” the new notice continues. “Applicants are responsible for determining whether use of this standard unit is applicable to their research and for determining best approach to applying it in their research applications. A justification should be provided for research that does not propose to use the standard unit.”

NIDA Director Nora Volkow discussed the importance of establishing a standard THC unit in commentary published in the journal Addiction last year.

Citing research that calls for a five milligram THC standard, Volkow said she agreed with the study’s conclusion despite complicating factors. Those factors include potential issues related to the effect of having cannabis products with the same THC level but different concentrations of other cannabinoids such as CBD.

The complexities in research beyond having a standardized measure of THC “hardly negate the value” of setting one, Volkow said in her commentary. “In fact, having and using such a standard is a prerequisite for comparing the effects of various cannabis products on THC bioavailability, pharmacokinetics and pharmacological effects, which is knowledge fundamental to studies pertaining to medical use of cannabis.”

“Although cannabis remains an illicit substance in the United States, the expanded legalization by states requires us to develop the knowledge base that can help states develop policies to minimize risk from cannabis exposures, such as limits on the THC content of cannabis products,” she said.

Volkow has been vocal about the importance of streamlining and improving research into cannabis, and she’s laid partial blame for the the lack of studies on marijuana’s restrictive federal classification.

Kansas Senate Running Out Of Time To Pass Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Cleared House

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Kansas Senate Running Out Of Time To Pass Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Cleared House

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As advocates applaud the passage of a medical marijuana legalization bill in the Kansas House of Representatives, anxieties remain high over its prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The chamber has days left being the end of the legislative veto session, and Senate leadership has signaled that they do not view the reform legislation as a priority.

“The Senate is not real high on the issue at this point” Senate President Ty Masterson (R) told an Associated Press reporter in a pun-filled text message on Thursday, adding that “we may roll it into a joint committee and see if we can weed out the issues.”

Whether he was serious about the joint committee or simply making an attempt at cannabis-related humor is unclear. A spokesperson for his office separately said that the chamber is focused on passing a budget bill and a school funding measure in the final days of the session.

“I can’t imagine we’d take the subject matter up this year,” Masterson said earlier this week ahead of the House vote.

If the Senate doesn’t take up the medical marijuana bill by May 11, it would still be alive for the second half of the legislative biennium that starts early in 2022 and could be acted upon then.

But even if senators do make time to establish a bicameral conference committee to consider the proposal, there are still serious doubts about whether the body would approve the resulting negotiated legislation. And defeat in the Senate this year would mean lawmakers would have to start the process all over again if they wanted to pursue the reform again next year.

Getting the bill to this stage alone has proved challenging.

It moved through the House Federal and State Affairs Committee after a series of hearings and onto the floor in March, but then it was rereferred to the panel for further consideration. Members then adopted several additional amendments before sending it back on the floor.

The legislation would establish a medical marijuana program for qualified patients. It lists about two dozen conditions that make a person eligible for cannabis, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Smoking and vaping products would be prohibited. The bill would also not provide for home growing.

The state would license medical cannabis growers, testing labs, processors distributors and retailers, and counties would be able to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their jurisdiction.

Patients would be able to purchase up to a 90 day supply of cannabis from licensed dispensaries, which would be regulated by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). That department would also be renamed the Division of Alcohol and Cannabis Control.

The secretary of the Department of Health and Environment would have to develop regulations to administer the medical cannabis program by July 1, 2023.

Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, supports medical cannabis and would be expected to sign a bill if it arrived on her desk.

She pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.

Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed. And with the small timeline before the session’s end, the time to apply that pressure would be now.

While both pieces of legislation would make it so Kansas would join the vast majority of states that have legal medical marijuana markets, advocates view them as restrictive, particularly as it concerns the limited methods of consumption that would be permitted.

A separate medical cannabis legalization bill was introduced by the Senate Commerce Commerce in February, though it has not seen action beyond being referred to another panel.

Alabama Governor Will Give Medical Marijuana Bill A ‘Thorough’ Review, Spokesperson Says

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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