A Maryland House committee voted in favor of two separate bills that would put a marijuana legalization question before voters at November’s ballot.
The two measures are sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who also serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee that approved the proposals. A full floor vote in the House on both pieces of legislation is expected in the coming weeks.
The first measure – HB 1 – would ask voters whether they approve of an amendment to Maryland’s constitution that would allow adults 21 and older to legally possess and use marijuana. The proposal would also compel lawmakers to establish laws that would “provide for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”
It cleared the House in a 14 to 6 vote.
The second measure – HB 837 – sets out some of the provisions that would guide lawmakers’ efforts in creating a legal marijuana market in Maryland. It calls for allowing adults to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, and would remove criminal penalties for cannabis possession up to 2.5 ounces.
Those with prior convictions for marijuana-related offenses that would now be legal would have their records automatically expunged, while those serving time would be eligible for resentencing.
That bill passed by 15 votes to 5.
Prior to the vote on HB 837, committee members introduced several amendments that were then adopted. This includes one that would allow adults to grow up to two marijuana plants at home for personal use, another for gifting cannabis to other adults without reimbursement, and another that would reduce the time period until someone with a marijuana conviction is eligible for automatic expungement from three to four years.
The bill to establish a legal cannabis market in Maryland also contains provisions providing for the creation of a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund, which would be charged with supporting minority and women-owned marijuana businesses with grants and educational programs.
If approved by the Maryland legislature and voters, low-level marijuana possession would become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, subject to a $250 fine. Full marijuana legalization would not come into force for another six months, which is problematic for some cannabis reform advocates.
“We appreciate Chair Clippinger and the committee’s work to allow adult sharing, limited home cultivation, and to ensure edibles and paraphernalia are included,” said Marijuana Policy Project’s Karen O’Keefe said. “We look forward to continuing to work with both chambers, including to address a gap between the referendum’s passage and legalization that could lead to demeaning and potentially violent police-civilian interactions.”
Should Maryland voters get a chance to have their say on marijuana legalization in the state, recent polling suggests such a proposal would stand a good chance of gaining approval. According to a Goucher College survey, 60 percent of Maryland voters are in favor of the reform, while only 28 percent are opposed.