House Bill 837 Aims to Legalize Pot Possession, Home Grow in Maryland
Activists behind a ballot referendum to legalize cannabis in Maryland launched a new ad campaign last week, urging voters to support the proposal when they go to the polls on November 8. If passed, the ballot measure would make Maryland the 20th state in the union to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.
In April, the Maryland General Assembly passed two bills designed to legalize recreational marijuana. Under the proposals, Maryland voters will decide in this fall’s general election if cannabis should be legalized for adults, leaving lawmakers to pass additional legislation to regulate the commercial cannabis industry.
“We’re at the beginning of an important process where we begin to look again at how we have treated the substance—cannabis,” Delegate Luke Clippinger, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the legislation, told his colleagues in the House of Delegates when they passed the bills earlier this year.
The legislation approved by lawmakers includes House Bill 837, a measure that would legalize possession of up to 1 1/2 ounces of marijuana for adults and create an equitable path to cannabis legalization, according to Clippinger. The bill would also allow adults to cultivate up to two cannabis plants at home.
Maryland Voters to Decide on Question 4 in November
House Bill 837 will go into effect if voters approve House Bill 1, a cannabis legalization constitutional amendment measure that will appear as Question 4 on the ballot for the November general election. The referendum is supported largely by Trulieve, a cannabis producer and retailer with operations in eight states, including three medical marijuana dispensaries in Maryland.
On Thursday, the campaign to pass Question 4 launched a new ad campaign featuring a website and video encouraging voters to support cannabis legalization in Maryland. Eugene Monroe, a former offensive lineman for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and the chairman of the committee sponsoring the referendum campaign, said the ballot measure would create economic opportunities for both entrepreneurs and workers.
“Legalizing cannabis would stimulate Maryland’s economy and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, while allowing Maryland residents to benefit from vital investments in education, public health, and public safety funded by cannabis taxes,” Monroe said in a statement quoted by the Washington Post.
Supporters of cannabis policy reform in the Maryland General Assembly have said that legalizing marijuana will help the state address the harms caused by prohibition and the War on Drugs. A study from the American Civil Liberties Union showed that between 2010 and 2018, Black people in Maryland were more than twice as likely to be arrested for a marijuana-related offense than white people, despite evidence that the two groups use cannabis at nearly equal rates.
“Passing Question 4 will put an end to the failed criminalization of cannabis, create a well-regulated legal marijuana market centered around equity, and open up new doors for local entrepreneurs and small business owners,” Monroe said in the statement.
Delegate Jazz Lewis of Prince George’s County, who gave his reluctant approval to the legislation passed earlier this year, said that the legal cannabis industry should be open to all.
“We need to make sure that we build a brand new industry where people can get in where it is most appropriate for them, and that they have a support system around them so that they can thrive,” said Lewis.
Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2014, leading to the launch of the medicinal cannabis industry three years later. But not one of the businesses approved to operate in the industry was Black-owned. Delegate Gabriel Acevero, who represents part of Montgomery County, said that the recreational cannabis industry must not follow the same path.
“The Maryland General Assembly unfortunately got it wrong on medical cannabis,” said Acevero. “It did not prioritize equity, it did not ensure that – in an industry that now generates millions – that communities most impacted would be able to participate in that.”
“We’re not prioritizing mitigating the impacts of the racist drug war – we’re just moving on this issue because we recognize that it’s very popular with Marylanders and for some people, it’s politically expedient,” Acevero added. “But we have to get this right.”
Delegate David Moon, who represents a different section of Montgomery County, is the chair of the criminal justice impacts subcommittee of the cannabis legalization workgroup. He said that the group will wait until the referendum is passed and equity studies are completed early next year before drafting a regulatory system, noting that it could be years before recreational marijuana businesses open their doors to customers.
“That’s exactly why we’re on this sort of two step process,” Moon said. “This whole conversation about licensing requires a few more conversations and analysis, I think because of exactly the history [of the medical marijuana inequities.] The workgroup meetings that have happened have been about getting the basic conversations going on licensing and health effects, so I think it’s really a preview for what’s going to happen in next year’s legislative session.”
With 50 days before the election, Question 4 is receiving strong support from the public. In a poll of 748 likely voters released on Monday morning, 59% said they would vote in favor of the referendum.