Maryland lawmakers are following through on their plan to send an adult-use cannabis legalization question to voters in November before adopting the final rules to regulate a state program next year.
The Maryland House voted, 94-39, on April 1 to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot via House Bill 1, asking the state’s constituency if it favors legalization of cannabis use by those 21 and older by July 1, 2023. That vote concurred with Senate amendments to the bill.
Separately, the General Assembly also passed House Bill 837, companion legislation that would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, 12 grams of concentrate, 750 milligrams of delta-9 THC or two plants for personal use. The legislation would also decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces as a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor.
The Senate passed H.B. 837, 30-15, on March 31, before the House concurred in an 89-41 vote on April 1, sending the legislation to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in time to override a possible veto, should Hogan reject the measure, before lawmakers adjourn from their 90-day session on April 11.
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.
Both pieces of legislation are sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger, a Democrat from Baltimore City who chairs the Judiciary Committee.
Before moving forward with H.B. 837, “Marylanders deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box,” 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.”
While voter approval of H.B. 1 at the ballot would set in motion certain steps toward implementing a state-legal program, lawmakers wouldn’t decide on more specific parameters, such as licensing and taxes, until next year, The Associated Press reported.
According to a Goucher College Poll from March, 62% of Maryland residents support adult-use cannabis legalization.
State lawmakers’ passage of the companion bills last week is in line with that poll’s majority, said Oliva Naugle, senior policy analyst at Marijuana Policy Project.
“Marylanders have long awaited a new approach to cannabis policy and the passage of these bills is a promising step forward,” Naugle said in a statement. “We applaud the Legislature for taking decisive action this session to finally end the era of cannabis prohibition, a policy that is both long overdue and supported by a majority of constituents. We look forward to working with Maryland legislators on this issue moving forward.”
To date, 18 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized adult-use cannabis.