A top Maryland lawmaker on Friday pledged that lawmakers will pass a bill to put the question of marijuana legalization before voters as a referendum on the 2022 ballot. And she’s formed a cannabis working group to assess the best way to structure the reform.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D) said that while she has “personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization.”
“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,” she said in a press release.
To that end, Jones has appointed a 10-member working group to study a range of issues related to legalizing and regulating cannabis.
Legalization legislation did begin to move through the legislature this session, but no votes were ultimately held.
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing in March on a legalization bill sponsored by top lawmakers, including the body’s president, majority leader and key committee chairs. That followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal in February.
“Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational cannabis for adult-use. Maryland must do the same and a large majority of Marylanders in both political parties support an equitable framework that immediately addresses the injustices in our current criminal justice system,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D) said in reaction to Jones’s announcement on Friday.
“In 2019, I co-chaired the General Assembly’s workgroup to study this issue and we identified the key decision points and models for legalization in Maryland,” he added. “The Senate continues to be ready to move a fair, just, and equitable program forward, and we intend to do so during the 2022 session.”
Del. Jazz Lewis (D), who sponsored the legalization bill in his chamber this year, praised the speaker’s move to advance the issue.
“As I have said many times, legalization must be grounded in equity and restorative justice,” he said. “I’ll continue to fight for just that!”
I commend Speaker Jones for putting together a workgroup to review legislation on legalizing cannabis. As I have said many times, legalization must be grounded in equity and restorative justice. I'll continue to fight for just that!
— Delegate Jazz Lewis (@JazzforMaryland) July 16, 2021
Lawmakers had worked to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate proposals in the hopes of getting something to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has not endorsed legalization but has signaled he may be open to considering the idea.
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The effort to end prohibition might not have panned out this session, but now the speaker seems to be setting the stage for a policy change next year.
The working group she’s convened—which includes House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D), Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R), Legislative Black Caucus Chair Darryl Barnes (D) and other top lawmakers—will study a wide range of cannabis policy issues before the referendum bill is formally introduced.
I strongly support @SpeakerAJones's proposal to put a question on the ballot in 2022 to legalize recreational #cannabis in Maryland.
And I'm honored to serve on the House work group looking at the details of legalization.
— Delegate Eric Luedtke (@EricLuedtke) July 16, 2021
Luedtke said it remains to be seen what the legalization ballot question will ultimately look like, but “but many of us will be arguing for broad expungement and for efforts to ameliorate past harms, especially to communities of color.”
tbd what the ballot language would look like, but many of us will be arguing for broad expungement and for efforts to ameliorate past harms, especially to communities of color.
— Delegate Eric Luedtke (@EricLuedtke) July 16, 2021
The panel will consider licensing rules, tax structures, social equity and expanded access to substance misuse treatment.
The press release says that the group will begin to meet this fall.
As Maryland lawmakers considered the two marijuana legalization bills this past session, a poll found that the state’s residents are on board with the policy change. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Marylanders now back legalizing cannabis, according to a Goucher College survey. Just 28 percent are opposed.
Pressure to enact the reform is also building regionally. Marijuana legalization took effect in Virginia at the beginning of this month, for example.
In Maryland, Democratic gubernatorial candidates—former state Attorney General Doug Gansler and former U.S. Secretary of Education John King—have also voiced support for legalization in recent weeks.
Legalizing cannabis is only step one.
We must also ensure that businesses led by folks of color and women are able to fairly participate in licensing and sales.
— John King (@JohnBKing) July 13, 2021
“Black Marylanders are nearly twice as likely as white Marylanders to be arrested for cannabis despite using it at the same rate,” King said. “It’s time to legalize it and expunge records for non-violent offenders.”
Black Marylanders are nearly twice as likely as white Marylanders to be arrested for cannabis despite using it at the same rate.
It’s time to legalize it and expunge records for non-violent offenders.
— John King (@JohnBKing) July 12, 2021
Gansler reacted to New Mexico’s decision to legalize cannabis and described it as “the rational, practical, and fiscally responsible thing” to do.
Yet another state has done the rational, practical, and fiscally responsible thing and legalized cannabis. Maryland should be next. https://t.co/lRWZV3gZzF
— Doug Gansler (@DougGansler) June 30, 2021
“Maryland should be next,” he said.
Gansler also called out the consequences of prohibition, saying it can derail people’s lives and damages trust between communities and law enforcement.
The consequences of a simple marijuana possession conviction can derail someone's life, closing the door to jobs and more. That is why we need to legalize cannabis in Maryland and establish a comprehensive system to expunge possession records.
— Doug Gansler (@DougGansler) June 18, 2021
For law enforcement to be their most effective, they must build and maintain the trust of their communities. Cannabis regulation would free up police resources, so they can focus on more serious crimes and help strengthen community relationships, to keep all of our families safe.
— Doug Gansler (@DougGansler) June 21, 2021
“Maryland is now lagging behind its neighbors in Virginia and D.C. on cannabis policy, and it is long past due that the state move forward with equitable legalization,” Olivia Naugle, a legislative analysis with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Marylanders strongly support legalization, so it is encouraging to see the speaker commit to referring legalization to voters next year.”
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, the governor 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.
In 2017, Hogan 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.
Read the speaker’s full announcement about the marijuana plan below:
SPEAKER JONES ANNOUNCES CANNABIS REFERENDUM AND WORKGROUP
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Today, Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones announced support for a referendum to legalize cannabis on the 2022 General Election ballot.
“While I have personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” said Speaker Jones. “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.”
Speaker Jones also announced the creation of a Cannabis Workgroup to craft the implementation of a legalized cannabis program in Maryland, should the voters approve the ballot question in November of 2022.
House Judiciary Chairman Luke Clippinger will chair the Workgroup.
“Cannabis use has had a disparate impact on people of color for too long with no real impact on public safety,” said Chairman Clippinger. “This Workgroup will establish the legal frameworks necessarily to fully implement legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us. The Speaker has been clear that we will do this with an eye toward equity and consideration to Black and brown neighborhoods and businesses historically impacted by cannabis use.”
The Workgroup will:
- Determine the regulatory, licensing and oversight structure of the production, sale and possession of legalized cannabis, including licensing application process, number of licenses, and equity in ownership of marijuana facilities
- Address expungement of previous convictions for cannabis and determine changes to existing criminal laws related to cannabis
- Identify the structure for potential release of those convicted solely of marijuana-related crimes , as well as dismissal of pending marijuana charges
- Review existing criminal and traffic laws related to marijuana including paraphernalia and cannabis accessories
- Structure equitable ownership in cannabis-related businesses
- Construct social equity programs to compensate communities impacted by over-incarceration for marijuana-related crimes
- Craft a taxation structure and revenue distribution from cannabis proceeds
- Expand addiction treatment programs and healthcare support for substance abuse
- Determine the impact to medical cannabis programs, other collateral rights and licenses
The Speaker appointed the following members of the Workgroup, as well as chairs of the subcommittees of the Workgroup:
- Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, who will chair Cannabis Taxation Subcommittee
- Minority Leader Jason Buckel
- Vice Chair Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who will chair Health Determinants Subcommittee
- Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais
- Legislative Black Caucus Chair Darryl Barnes
- Delegate C.T. Wilson, who will chair the Business Implementation Subcommittee
- Delegate David Moon, who will chair Criminal Justice Impacts Subcommittee
- Delegate Nicole Williams
- Delegate Robin Grammer
- Delegate Nic Kipke
The Workgroup will begin meeting this fall. All meetings will be livestreamed through the Maryland General Assembly website.
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Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.