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Maryland Lawmakers Move To Legalize Marijuana

The Maryland House and Senate are working on separate legalization plans. If they agree it would be on November’s ballot

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Maryland lawmakers are discussing the legalization of adult-use marijuana. Last fall, a Goucher poll found that 60 percent of Marylanders favor legalizing marijuana.

But the House and Senate are taking very different approaches, reports WYPR.

The House of Delegates is proposing a constitutional amendment to go before voters on the November ballot. The amendment allows those 21 and older to legally “use and possess cannabis.”

But House Bill 1 wouldn’t go into effect until July 2023. That gives lawmakers time to craft rules for its use, possession, distribution and taxation.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones says it’s important to “get the input from Maryland citizens” first.

“We’ve done polling that shows that a majority of Marylanders support legal cannabis and we’re going to put it on the ballot for the voters to decide,” she said.

A House panel headed by Luke Clippinger, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is working on the details. House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke said there are a lot of sticky issues to work out. Among these, are who gets licenses to sell it? Can you grow it in your home? How do you deal with driving under the influence?

Assuming the referendum is approved, they would “be implementing a framework for legalized cannabis in Maryland” in the 2023 session.

Senate Bill Includes Both Referendum And Regulation

The Senate, however, is preparing to lay out all the details in one bill. Their bill includes both a referendum and a regulatory scheme.

Senate President Bill Ferguson said it would be unfair to put the simple question of whether to legalize Cannabis before voters without letting them know the details. Ferguson said voters should what the program would look like, and what its impacts would be.

“And that can only happen if we do the heavy lifting of figuring out a regulatory system, making the investments in ensuring that we have an equitable approach to any revenues that come in reforms to the criminal justice system related to legalization,” Ferguson said.

Sen. Carter: Include Racial Equity Provisions

Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, says there must be rules on how licenses are distributed and how much effort is put into repairing damage done to the Black community by the war on drugs and the over incarceration of Black people for marijuana offenses. Statistics show Blacks are arrested at higher rates in Maryland than are Whites, despite similar rates of usage.

She called it a “targeted effort to infuse these areas with profits, resources, money and opportunity from what the state is able to get from the legalization.”

And she predicted many lawmakers, especially members of the Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, would reject legislation that didn’t have those provisions.

“We’re not interested in passing legislation just to pass it,” she said. “We want to make sure that there’s equity written into it.”

Maryland GOP Leader Appears To Disapprove Of Getting Out The Vote

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, the Republican leader, haughtily dismissed the referendum as a political stunt. He hinted that it was merely an attempt to get minority voters to the polls.

“I think they believe that it’s a way to get people out to the polls that will vote for them,” he said. “We were elected to do our job and not go to the polls every time and say, you know, do you like this? Do you like this?”

Still, says Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, a Montgomery County Democrat and House parliamentarian, it’s important to put this type of issue on the ballot. She recalled marriage equality and referendums that affect undocumented immigrants.

“And it’s been really powerful to be able to go back and say the voters directly requested and asked for this,” Wilkins said.

Each chamber will likely pass its version of the Cannabis bills. If they can they work out their differences, it will be on the Maryland ballot in November.