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Maryland House Approves Legalization Bills

On Friday, Maryland’s House of Delegates approved two bills designed to legalize recreational marijuana. These measures allow Maryland to vote on whether or not marijuana should become legal. Then, lawmakers will draft regulations that regulate a cannabis business.

“We’re at the beginning of an important process where we begin to look again at how we have treated the substance—cannabis,” Democratic Delegate Luke Clippinger, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the legislation, told his colleagues in the House.

He made note of the “thousands and thousands and thousands of people we have incarcerated because of it,” adding that “those thousands of incarcerations have not made us any safer.”

Clippinger reports that lawmakers approved House Bill 837 last week. This measure would allow adults to possess up to 1.5 ounces cannabis and provide an equitable pathway to legalization. Adults would be allowed to grow up to 2 cannabis plants at their home under the bill.

If House Bill 837 is approved by voters, House Bill 1 will become law. This ballot measure for legalizing cannabis constitutional amendments and legalization in the November general elections will be put into effect. Based on the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup’s September findings, the legislation will go into effect.

The measures were approved by the House of Delegates after a second reading on February 23, clearing the way for Friday’s final vote. The House of Delegates passed HB 1 by a margin 96 to 34, and HB 837 with a vote 92 to 37. 

Maryland Legislation includes Social Equity Measures

Eric Luedtke (House Majority Leader) expressed support for legislation and noted that HB837 has social equity provisions. These are meant to alleviate the effects of decades-long cannabis prohibition.

“We’re going to be doing some work to expunge past cannabis crimes, to reduce penalties in this period before we get a legal industry set up, and also do the work necessary to make sure that Black-owned businesses in particular and minority-owned businesses more generally have a real opportunity to participate in the industry,” Luedtke said on a radio program on Friday after the vote. 

“Given that the drug war was disproportionately prosecuted against communities of color, we’re extremely committed that everybody has a chance to benefit from a legalized recreational cannabis industry.”

These measures were mostly approved by party lines. One of only a few Democrats who voted against HB 837 was Delegate Gabriel Acevero. He said that the bill needed to include more restorative justice provisions.

“It is not enough for us to acknowledge the harm that is done to communities by the intentional war on drugs,” Acevero told the House. “It is not enough for us to address the criminal legal aspect of cannabis legalization for the communities that have been harmed. It is just as crucial that we address the harm done to those communities who were disproportionately affected. And unfortunately, that bill does not do that.”

Some Maryland advocates for cannabis policy reform believe substantial progress is better than perfect legislation. Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said earlier this year that “I think the biggest thing is, we don’t want to see any more delay.” 

“The longer we delay the longer Maryland is going to continue to subject its residents to police interactions, arrests and criminalization for cannabis, which is now legal in 18 states,” Naugle said in an interview earlier this year.

Before Friday’s vote, Republican House Minority Whip Haven Shoemaker argued against the proposal, noting that studies on impaired driving and the health effects of cannabis will not be conducted until after the constitutional amendment is passed. He said that the legislation is akin to “putting the marijuana cart before the proverbial horse” and is not “quite ready for prime time.”

“If you think it is, maybe you’re smoking something, I’m not sure, but I’ll be voting no,” Shoemaker added.