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Maryland House Advances Cannabis Legalization Bills

The legalization of adult-use cannabis in Maryland took another step forward on Wednesday with the advancement of two bills in the state’s House of Delegates. 

House Bill 837 is the first bill. It would permit adults to legally possess up to 1.5 ounces and establish an equitable path towards legalization. It would allow adult to plant up to two cannabis plants in their own home.

House Bill 837 was introduced as companion legislation to House Bill 1. This bill would legalize cannabis and be eligible for consideration in the November elections. The House approved both bills on Wednesday, after the second reading of each bill and a lengthy debate lasting 90 minutes.

Based on the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup’s September findings, the legislation will be enacted. The enactment of House Bill 837 is contingent on the passage of a cannabis legalization referendum planned for this year’s general election under House Bill 1.

The bill was introduced by Luke Clippinger, a Democratic delegate from Baltimore and the chair of House Judiciary Committee. The House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup was also headed by him. This group focused on regulatory and business aspects, as well as public health and criminal justice.

Multiple Amendments Deferred

Wednesday’s approval of the bills came after the defeat of several amendments proposed by Republican delegates. Jason C. Buckel was the House Minority Leader and supported one proposal which would raise the $50 per-instance fine for using cannabis in public.

“This isn’t a slap on the wrist, this is a tickle on the wrist,” Buckel said of the $50 fine. “I don’t know how many of you have gotten a speeding ticket where the fine is less than this. Doing 70 in a 55, you are going to pay more than $50.”

David Moon, Democratic Delegate of Maryland, said that a more severe penalty would be better than a simple fine. Moon also stated that marijuana legalization was a way for Democrats to reduce the disparity between the enforcement of prohibition and incarceration of nonviolent offenders. A survey among Maryland adults had revealed that half had used cannabis.

“Half of Maryland residents likely got away with a jailable offense when they did this,” he said. “The more disturbing part of this is that white Marylanders have been getting away with this jailable offense at much higher rates than all the rest of us.”

An amendment was also proposed that would have permitted localities where majority voters opposed the referendum, to opt out from cannabis legalization. This policy has caused areas to be denied access to cannabis regulated in legalized states. Buckel said that counties that do not approve legalization should not have “this crammed down their throat.”

“You don’t get to opt out, even when it’s based on the will of your voters, the will of your voters who expressed in a democratic referendum they don’t want this,” he said. “We’re gonna cram it down your throat. That’s not fair.”

Moon, however, argued that Buckel’s efforts would only serve to maintain prohibition.

“What the minority leader is proposing to do, both through his attempt to make this a local decision where people could keep perpetuating these inequities, and now in this attempt to re-criminalize, is the opposite of what we’re trying to do,” Moon said.

The legislation that passes the House of Delegates must be approved by the Senate. Maryland lawmakers will then take it to the Maryland Senate for final approval. There, they are currently working on an expanded cannabis legalization proposal.