Maryland lawmakers filed bills filed this week that would make the state the latest to legalize marijuana.
Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, consume, grow and purchase cannabis under the legislation. Possession would be capped at one ounce for flower and five grams of concentrate, and individuals could grow up to four plants at a time.
As in other states weighing legalization this session, there’s a sense of inevitability in the Maryland legislature. House Speaker Michael Busch (D) said last month that legalization, “whether you support it or whether you don’t support it personally, I think that’s the future.”
“I think you’re going to see the country go to legalizing recreational marijuana and, you know, it’ll be much like overturning prohibition,” he said, according to the Associated Press, adding that he’d want to invest all of the tax revenue from marijuana sales in education.
Senate President Thomas Miller Jr. (D) agreed that cannabis is a billion dollar industry that should be regulated, but he said talk about how to appropriate tax revenue was premature. Miller came out in support of legalization in 2014, saying that he favors “the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions”
“I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now,” he said.
Meanwhile, other legislative leaders are putting together a working group meant to study how legal industries operate in other states to inform Maryland’s approach.
And in Baltimore, the city’s top prosecutor announced last week that her office would no longer prosecute individuals marijuana possession cases and also work to clear the records of those with prior convictions.
Del. Eric Luedtke (D), who introduced the House version of the new legalization bill, told Maryland Matters that the prosecutorial change in the state’s biggest city is a step in the right direction, but won’t necessarily affect change in the capital.
“We are headed to legalization as it is,” he said.
Under his new legislation, marijuana sales would be taxed at six percent, with funds from that revenue going toward substance abuse treatment, impaired driving prevention, education and investments in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war.
Some of the tax revenue would go toward a restorative justice component of the bill—namely providing for the automatic expungement of past cannabis possession and cultivation convictions. Individuals with other marijuana-related convictions, including sales, would be able to submit petitions to the court to get their records cleared.
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A separate House proposal would place the question of legalizing cannabis on the ballot for voters to decide as a constitutional amendment.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been reluctant to take a stance on full legalization. While he said that legalization is “worth taking a look at” last year, he recently said he feels it would be “premature” to pass such legislation now. He pointed to what he described as “kinks” in the state’s medical cannabis program that need to be addressed first.
“It was really screwed up before we got here,” Hogan said last month. “It was a mess digging out of it. We’re finally getting it on track.”
Legalization advocates cheered the new legislation.
“These bills propose a sensible system in which cannabis is regulated, taxed, and treated similarly to alcohol,” Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a press release. “They would bring cannabis production and sales above ground so that they can be conducted by licensed, taxpaying businesses rather than criminal enterprises. Most importantly, this legislation would improve public health and safety, but it would also have the bonus of generating significant new tax revenue for the state.”
Read the text of the new Maryland marijuana legalization bill as filed in the Senate below:
Maryland legalization bill by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.