In 2014, medical cannabis was legalized in the State of Maryland with the passage of House Bill 881, which established the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC). But how did we get here, and what’s next?
The path to cannabis reform and decriminalization in Maryland has been long and often tumultuous. Prior to medical cannabis legalization, Maryland had the fifth-highest cannabis possession arrest rate in the US in 2010, according to the ACLU, which also reported for 2010 that marijuana possession accounted for almost 50% of all drug arrests in the State. Maryland spent $106 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in that same year, and the State’s per capita spending for marijuana possession arrests was the third highest in the nation.
The passage of HB881 in 2014 established the MMCC as well as rules and regulations for cultivation, processing, possession, sale, and consumption of medical marijuana. It also made possession a civil infraction versus a criminal charge, if under a certain amount of cannabis possessed. However, Republican Governor Larry Hogan, elected in 2014, had to resist mounting pressure from politicians and community activists, as well as growing support from Maryland citizens themselves. University of Maryland polls found that 54% of Marylanders supported legalization in 2014, and 61% supported legalization in 2016.
While legislation to legalize medical marijuana was passed in 2014, it wasn’t until 2016 that the Maryland General Assembly passed SB517, which decriminalized the possession of marijuana paraphernalia (such as rolling papers, pipes and bongs) and decriminalized the smoking of marijuana in public. The measure makes both civil offenses punishable by a fine of up to $500.
In 2017 Maryland’s medical marijuana program opened its doors and began selling medical marijuana to patients who registered with the State through the MMCC. Over the next two years, Maryland’s medical marijuana sector expanded significantly; by 2019, Maryland had 18 licensed growers, 85 licensed dispensaries, and over 50,000 registered patients.
In 2019, the Marijuana Legalization Workgroup, a task force of the General Assembly, began to consider ways to potentially legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana in Maryland. In 2021’s General Assembly Session, Delegate Jazz Lewis introduced HB32, which would legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana and expunge prior cannabis-related convictions. The bill, however, was only heard in committee and was never voted on during the 2021 Session.
[credit: Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC)]
On July 16, 2021, Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones announced that a referendum would decide whether to legalize recreational use of cannabis. Medical usage was growing; as of November 2021, the MMCC reported nearly 150,000 patients registered with the State, and $600,000,000 in projected retail sales for 2021.
Now in 2022, the House, by way of Delegate Luke Clippinger, has introduced a measure to put the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana on the ballot for the 2022 General Election. The bill, HB1, which seeks to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, was formally introduced today (January 12) and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, which Clippinger chairs. If passed in the legislature, the big question would go on the ballot: “Do you favor the legalization of adult use, recreational cannabis in Maryland?”
If finally approved by voters, it would be up to the legislature in 2023 to develop rules and policies surrounding the use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation in Maryland. Multiple legislators are exploring options to create the most effective rules and regulations if the referendum is passed.
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