On Friday, Maryland’s House of Delegates approved two bills designed to legalize recreational marijuana. Under the measures, Maryland voters will decide if marijuana should be legalized, leaving lawmakers to then draft the details for regulating a 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,” 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.”
The legislation approved by lawmakers last week includes House Bill 837, a measure that would legalize possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis 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.
House Bill 837 will go into effect if voters approve House Bill 1, a cannabis legalization constitutional amendment ballot measure planned for the November general election. 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 measures were approved by the House of Delegates after a second reading on February 23, clearing the way for Friday’s final vote. HB 1 was passed by a margin of 96-34, while HB 837 was approved with a vote of 92-37.
Maryland Legislation Includes Social Equity Measures
House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke expressed his support for the legislation, noting that HB 837 includes social equity provisions to help address the harm caused by decades of 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.”
Both measures were approved largely along party lines. Delegate Gabriel Acevero, one of the few Democrats to vote against HB 837, said the bill should include stronger 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. What is equally as important is that we repair the harm that was done to the communities that have been disproportionately impacted. And unfortunately, that bill does not do that.”
But some Maryland cannabis policy reform advocates believe that substantial progress on the issue is more important than crafting 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.
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.