A Maryland House of Delegates lawmaker prefiled a marijuana legalization bill for consideration in the 2021 legislation beginning January 13.

Del. Jazz Lewis (D) submitted the draft legislation – HB0032 – which would legalize and regulate marijuana sales through state-licensed businesses, expunge prior cannabis-related convictions and set up a social equity program to direct marijuana sales revenues to communities and individuals most harmed by prohibition.

Lewis listed many benefits to legalizing cannabis, including a drop in youth consumption, freeing up of law enforcement resources as well as its potential for restorative justice.

“States that have legalized have seen a decline in teen usage due to disruptions of the illicit market,” Lewis said. “Law enforcement has mostly stated they would rather go after actual criminals than young people who shouldn’t be involved with the justice system.”

“We can and should do better,” Lewis continued. “We allow for the expungement of records, creating social equity businesses to include minorities and the formerly incarcerated, and we dedicate resources to revitalizing disconnected communities. The time for restoring communities and ending prohibition is now.”

The draft legislation submitted by Lewis would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or 15 grams of concentrate. The possession limit of other THC-infused products would be set at 1,500 milligrams. If an individual was found to be in possession of up to twice these amounts, they’d be liable for a fine of up to $250 or 16 hours of community service. Public consumption of marijuana would remain prohibited but only subject to a fine of up to $50, or up to five hours of community service. The bill allows for home cultivation of up to six plants for personal use or gifting, so long as the plants aren’t visible from outside the property and aren’t accessible to children.

Lewis’s legalization proposal would further establish an automatic expungement process of “standalone cannabis offenses” by October 2022, while offenses involving other charges would be expunged within the following year. Individuals currently serving time for simple marijuana possession offenses would be released.

As far as the bill’s commercial provisions go, marijuana retail sales would be taxed at 20 percent on top of Maryland’s six percent sales tax. Local jurisdictions could impose a further tax of up to three percent, or choose to prohibit cannabis retailers from operating in its locality.

Regarding the bill’s social equity provisions, Lewis proposes 27 percent of revenues generated through taxes and licensing fees go toward serving “communities impacted by poverty, mass incarceration, or racism” through a Community Reinvestment and Repair Fund. 20 percent would go to Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities, while 10 percent would make up interest-free marijuana business loans to social equity applicants with another 3 percent set aside to provide administrative and technical assistance to these applicants.

“We applaud Del. Lewis for his leadership to craft a legalization bill that is rooted in reparative justice, equity, and inclusion,” said Karen O’Keefe, Marijuana Policy Project’s director of state policies. “It would release cannabis prisoners, expunge past convictions, reinvest in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs, train Marylanders for good jobs in cannabis, and create an industry that benefits disproportionately impacted communities.” Lewis’s bill raises hopes that Maryland could follow in the path of nearby New Jersey in 2021 and legalize adult-use marijuana. Meanwhile, neighboring Virginia is also moving toward marijuana legalization in 2021 with Gov. Northam saying the state could lead the way on ending cannabis prohibition in the South.

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