Maryland House Leaders Smooth the Way For Adult-Use Legalization
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Maryland House Leaders Smooth the Way For Adult-Use Legalization

State lawmakers plan to put a measure before voters but say they hold the keys to legalization parameters through companion bill.

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February 4, 2022

Maryland House lawmakers are laying the groundwork to legalize adult-use cannabis, but first they want to hear from voters in the November 2022 election.

msa.maryland.gov
Clippinger

Del. Luke Clippinger, a Democrat from Baltimore City who chairs the Judiciary Committee, introduced House Bill 837 on Feb. 3—legislation that would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces as a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor.

Under current Maryland laws and penalties, possession of 10 grams to 50 pounds of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and a $1,000 fine, according to NORML.

The legislation also aims to ensure the automatic expungement of records for those who were previously found guilty of simple possession if it was the only charge in the case. Anyone currently held in a state prison or local jail for a cannabis conviction would be resentenced to end their term of incarceration, according to Clippinger.

H.B. 837 would serve as a companion bill to H.B. 1, the ballot question for November’s election, which Clippinger also drafted. A Maryland House hearing on H.B. 1 is set for Feb. 14.

RELATED: Maryland Lawmaker Pre-Files Legislation to Place Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization on State’s 2022 Ballot

Before moving forward with H.B. 837, Marylanders deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box on the question of legalization, Clippinger wrote in a guest column for The Baltimore Sun on Feb. 3.

“Once they vote yes, the House of Delegates will continue to augment the policy to create the best, most equitable path to legal recreational cannabis,” he wrote. “Too many people have already suffered the consequences of a misguided war on drugs. House Bill 837, together with House Bill 1, is a rapid but responsible approach to legal recreational cannabis.”

Clippinger’s steps toward reform come on the heels of his work as the chairman of the 11-member House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup that formed last summer to study adult-use legalization in Maryland.

msa.maryland.gov
Jones

H.B. 837 would create and implement an adult-use cannabis program based on the findings of that workgroup, House Speaker Adrienne Jones said in a news release.

“While I feel strongly that the voters should decide this issue, it is the General Assembly that is charged with making sure we have a legally defensible, equity-driven plan in place should they choose legalization,” Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said.

Jones, who announced her support last July for a referendum to legalize cannabis on the 2022 ballot, established the cannabis referendum workgroup to help steer the path toward implementing an effective and equitable adult-use program.

As the chair of the workgroup, Clippinger said he and his colleagues identified several pillars of a successful legalization program: public health determinants, criminal justice impacts, business implementation and regulation considerations.

“The workgroup welcomed experts from various backgrounds and issue areas,” he wrote. “We received briefings on each topic, reviewed data, compared successes and failures of legalization efforts in other states, and asked questions.”

Clippinger added, “Addressing the overwhelming disparities that have impacted people of color—especially black and brown Marylanders—will be our top priority. Fueled by the war on cannabis, our current laws have disproportionately led to the arrest and criminalization of people of color.”

In addition to addressing an equitable regulatory system and identifying barriers to entry, H.B. 837 would create a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund to help those disproportionately affected by prohibition.

“We will not make the same missteps that occurred during the early implementing stages of Maryland’s medical cannabis program—missteps that initially kept diverse business owners, entrepreneurs and investors from participating in the industry,” Clippinger wrote. “Moving forward, equity must be at the forefront.”

The delegate also recognized public health concerns regarding the possible impacts of legalization, particularly on children, young people and those with a history of addiction.

H.B. 837 would tackle those concerns head on by implementing a baseline study to provide data on patterns of use, incidents of impaired driving, prenatal health, hospitalizations, calls to poison control and use disorder, he said. The data will help lawmakers craft legislation in future sessions to effectively provide the necessary support to vulnerable communities, Clippinger said.