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.
The first measure, House Bill 837, would legalize possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis for adults and create an equitable path to cannabis legalization, according to the sponsor of the legislation. The bill would also allow adults to cultivate up to two cannabis plants at home.
House Bill 837 was created as companion legislation for House Bill 1, a cannabis legalization ballot planned for the November election. Both bills were approved by the House on Wednesday after a second reading and a 90-minute debate.
The legislation is based on the findings of the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which began working on a legalization plan in September. 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 bills were introduced earlier this month by Democratic Delegate Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat and chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He also chaired the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which focused on the public health, criminal justice, regulatory, and business implementation aspects of cannabis legalization.
Several Amendments Defeated
Wednesday’s approval of the bills came after the defeat of several amendments proposed by Republican delegates. House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel supported one proposal that would increase the proposed $50 fine for smoking 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.”
Democratic Delegate David Moon opposed a stiffer penalty than a fine, saying that the goal of cannabis legalization for many Democrats is to end incarceration for nonviolent offenses and reduce the racial disparity in the enforcement of cannabis prohibition. He also noted that a survey of adults in Maryland had found half of the respondents had smoked 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.”
Another proposed amendment would have allowed local communities where a majority of voters opposed the referendum to opt out of cannabis legalization, a policy that has led to areas with no access to regulated cannabis in other states that have legalized cannabis. 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.
If the bills receive final approval in the House of Delegates, the legislation will head to the Maryland Senate, where lawmakers are also working on a more comprehensive cannabis legalization amendment proposal.