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Maryland Lawmakers Introduce Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill |

The Democratic leadership of Maryland’s House of Delegates last Thursday introduced a bill to legalize cannabis for adults. House Bill 837 (the legislation’s sponsor) would allow adult possession up to 1.5 ounces and establish an equitable path towards cannabis legalization.

The bill is contingent on the passage of a marijuana legalization referendum planned for Maryland’s November general election. Adrienne Jones, Democratic House Speaker, expressed support for such an election last summer and created a legislative group to examine issues related to marijuana legalization.

House Bill 837 was established as companion legislation to House Bill 1 (the cannabis legalization ballot question) for the November elections. This legislation was based upon the House Cannabis Referendum Workgroup’s September findings.

“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 said in a press release on February 3.

Democratic Delegate Luke Clippinger from Baltimore, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the legislation. He was the chair of the House Cannabis Referendum Workgroup. This group focused on public health, criminal justice and regulatory aspects.

“Marylanders deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box on the question of legalization, but we cannot move forward without an implementation plan that addresses our immediate priorities,” said Clippinger. “With this legislation, we will be prepared with a comprehensive policy that creates the best, most equitable path to legal recreational cannabis, should voters say yes.”

Maryland Bill includes Legalization and Expunement Provisions

House Bill 837 would legalize adults’ possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis. The possession of over 1.5 ounces or 2.5 ounces would not be considered a crime but a civil offense. Individuals convicted of possessing small quantities of cannabis would have their criminal records automatically erased.

Additionally, anyone currently held in a state jail or county jail on low-level cannabis convictions will be eligible to resentence and end their imprisonment. Clippinger stated that legislation will create an equitable criminal justice system. 

“Fueled by the war on cannabis, our current laws have disproportionately led to the arrest and criminalization of people of color,” Clippinger wrote in an op-ed that was recently published by the Baltimore Sun. “The companion legislation to House Bill 1 will work to end these disparities within our justice system.”

The bill would conduct a disparity analysis to determine barriers and create an equitable regulatory framework. The legislation also establishes a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund that will assist owners of small marijuana businesses, including women and members of minorities, as well as those who have been adversely affected by the prohibition of cannabis.

“This analysis will enable the legislature to determine what measures would be appropriate to ensure maximum participation for these communities to partake in the growing, distribution and sale of cannabis,” Clippinger wrote. “An equitable regulatory policy is simply not legally possible without this analysis and the information it will provide.”

Maryland’s Senate is also working to create a plan for legalizing cannabis. Sen. Will Smith, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee chair, said that a detailed cannabis legalization plan will have to be in place before legislators approve the ballot question for this year’s general election.

“We will not send this to a referendum without having a clear idea as to what things look like in terms of the actual regulatory framework,” Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat, said. “The regulatory framework has to be sussed out before we send it to the voters.”