Maryland lawmakers have proposed a new bill that would allow voters to legalize adult-use cannabis next fall.
The new bill, authored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D), chairman of the state's House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, would place one simple question on next year's general election ballot: “Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Maryland?” If a majority of voters say yes, the state legislature would then be required to legalize cannabis sales and use among adults.
Lawmakers advanced a similar bill in 2018, but it did not have enough support to pass. But this time, the House's Democratic leaders are making legalization their number one priority. Clippinger's bill has been designated House Bill 1 and will be formally introduced on January 12th, the day that the state General Assembly convenes its first legislative session of 2022.
Thanks to Maryland's complicated ballot laws, this bill requires support from three-fifths of each chamber of the Assembly in order to pass. If lawmakers do sign off on the proposal, the legalization referendum will appear on the 2022 state election ballot. And if at least 50 percent of state voters approve the referendum, the initiative will be kicked back to the General Assembly.
Most other states that legalized adult-use weed via ballot measures allow activists to draft their own initiatives and petition to put them up for public vote. But Maryland law does not allow voters to directly amend the state's constitution or laws. So if voters do approve the measure, the General Assembly will be tasked with amending the state constitution and passing laws that officially legalize cannabis sales and use for adults.
Unfortunately, this leaves the full details of legalization down to lawmakers, not activists, and their current adult-use proposal has already drawn some serious criticism. For one, the proposal would not take effect until July 1, 2023 at the earliest – which means that cops could continue arresting people for weed for eight months following the election. And although the current proposal would create a licensed and regulated adult-use retail market, it would not allow adults to grow their own weed at home.
“While we are grateful legislative leaders are prioritizing cannabis legalization in 2022, we are disappointed the pre-filed House referendum would continue the devastating war on cannabis for months after voters legalize cannabis,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, to Marijuana Moment. “We strongly urge legislators to revise the proposal to legalize possession and home cultivation upon enactment.”
“We also urge the legislature to pass implementing legislation in 2022 to ensure racial justice is at the heart of legalization, and to allow for a more timely transition to a safe, regulated market,” O'Keefe added.
Social equity issues have plagued Maryland's medical marijuana program, which was legalized back in 2013. The rollout of the program was delayed for four full years due to lawsuits accusing state regulators of failing to consider racial diversity when granting medical cannabis business licenses. Lawmakers are reportedly discussing social equity measures to be included in the new adult-use bill, including provisions for expunging nonviolent weed crimes, but have yet to finalize any of these ideas.