A group of Maryland House lawmakers met to discuss the possibility of putting the question of marijuana legalization to voters on the 2022 ballot.
The 10 member working group, convened by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D), talked about the shape cannabis reform has taken across the US during the virtual meeting then discussed how they intended to work together to develop legislation that would establish a legal marijuana market in Maryland, should voters approve the proposal at the ballot box.
Rep. Luke Clippinger (D), the working group’s chair, said marijuana prohibition has “had a disparate impact on people of color for far too long with no real impact on public safety” and urged other members to help “establish the legal framework that’s necessary to fully implement the legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us.”
Clippinger then outlined the group’s remit to consider issues related to legalizing cannabis such as licensing businesses, criminal and traffic laws pertaining to marijuana, expungement of cannabis-related convictions, public health, social equity and the tax framework. These aspects of cannabis legalization will be dealt with at a subcommittee level which will then report back to the rest of the group.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones convened the working group alongside an announcement to pursue legislation early next year that would authorize a referendum question on cannabis legalization.
Her counterpart in the Senate, Bill Ferguson (D), described the reform as “beyond past due” in July but said he would prefer lawmakers to pass a bill to legalize marijuana sooner than next year rather than wait on a ballot measure. He also expressed uncertainty that another cannabis legalization working group in Maryland served much purpose, given he co-chaired one on the issue in 2019.
Prior to the working group’s discussion, the members listened to a presentation by John Hudak of the Brookings Institution. He outlined the quick pace of state-level cannabis reforms, the different policy approaches that had been adopted, and the strong bipartisan support for legalizing marijuana across the country.
Two separate bills to legalize cannabis in Maryland were filed during the 2021 session, but no vote was held on either proposal.
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on a bill sponsored by Senate President Bill Ferguson, while the House Judiciary Committee discussed a measure submitted by Del. Jazz Lewis (D). Lawmakers then met to try and combine the bills into one piece of legislation that might meet the approval of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is skeptical of the reform, but the effort ultimately floundered.
If Maryland voters do get a chance to have their say on establishing a regulated cannabis market in the state, it’s likely the proposal will be met with approval. A recent Goucher College survey found more than two-thirds of Marylanders are in favor of the move, while just 28 percent are opposed.