Maryland Progresses Towards Legalized Adult-Use Cannabis

The Maryland House of Delegates recently passed a bill that would put legalization of adult-use cannabis on the ballot this November. The bill, HB 1, passed 96-34 and is based on a plan first laid out by Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones last summer.  If passed by the Maryland Senate, the bill would let voters decide via referendum whether or not to amend the Maryland constitution thereby legalizing adult-use sales. If the referendum passes, then the Maryland legislature would be tasked with working out the details for the legal market during the 2023 legislative session including determining who will get to sell cannabis, how any tax revenue will be spent, and how to ensure that Black communities most impacted by the war on drugs can benefit from the legalization.

In addition, the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB 837, on a 92-37 vote, which is “contingent” on the referendum being approved by voters in November, but would not require any further action by the legislature. Under HB 837, possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would become a civil offense, with a fine not to exceed $100, effective on January 1, 2023, and then it would cease to be an offense at all on July 1, 2023. HB 837 would also allow for the “sharing” of cannabis, provided both persons are at least 21 years of age and there is no payment, authorize the growing up to two cannabis plants per household, and provide for limited expungements of previous violations for simple possession. However, even if the referendum passes, HB 837 would still prohibit Marylanders from smoking cannabis in public and doing so would be subject to a $50 fine for the first offense and $150 for subsequent offenses.

Both bills are now headed to the Maryland Senate, but it is not clear that the Senate will agree on how or when to implement legalization. While there already was one bill before the Senate that largely mirrors the House’s, there is another bill that would skip the voter referendum entirely and simply create a regulatory structure for the sale of adult-use cannabis, broadly expunge a range of convictions for cannabis-related crimes, offer additional consideration for licenses for cannabis businesses to minorities or people impacted by the war on drugs, and redistribute 60% of tax revenues from sales to communities with the highest number of cannabis-related arrests.

It appears increasing likely that the legalization of adult-use cannabis is coming to Maryland soon, but there are still a lot of details to sort out.

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