Voters in Maryland will have their say on whether the state should legalize recreational marijuana after lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that ensures the proposed reform will appear on the ballot this November.

Maryland’s legislature also approved separate legislation setting out the legal framework for the cannabis industry should voters decide in favor of marijuana legalization. That measure is now on its way to Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

The moves follow weeks of debate in both chambers on three separate marijuana-related bills, each being subject to various amendments.

House lawmakers considered two bills – HB 1 and HB 837 – sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D) who serves as chair of the Judiciary Committee and was head of a marijuana legalization workgroup convened by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D) to explore the reform of Maryland’s cannabis laws.

HB 1 would put the legalization question on the ballot, and was approved with amendments from the Senate in a 94-39 vote. Since the proposal concerns a constitutional amendment, it doesn’t need the governor’s approval.

HB 837 would establish the initial rules and regulations governing the legal marijuana industry in Maryland, with a focus on penalties and expungement.

If voters approve the ballot measure, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, while criminal penalties for possession up to 2.5 ounces would be removed. Adults would also be able to gift marijuana without remuneration and grow up to two plants at home for personal use.

Prior cannabis-related convictions for offenses that would now be legal would be automatically expunged, while those currently serving time in jail or prison for such offenses would be able to seek resentencing.

Another marijuana legalization bill – SB 833 – sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman (D) proposed more detailed rules for the cannabis industry, such as tax policy and licensing procedures, but lawmakers ultimately decided to revisit the issue in the event of a favorable vote in November and instead fleshed out HB 837 with amendments.

The Senate voted 30-15 in support of HB 837. It was then sent back to the House Judiciary Committee before making it to the House floor where it was approved by 89-41 votes.

“There are folks that want to go broader. There are folks that don’t want to go this far,” Feldman said after the Senate vote. “But we’re striking a balance in conjunction with where the House is, where the Senate Finance Committee is, and we’ve come up with what I believe is a good, balanced and modest approach.”

The measure would also create a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund to promote equity in the legal marijuana industry by supporting businesses owned by minorities and women.

Should legalization come to pass in Maryland, the bill would require lawmakers to convene research into the impacts of the reform concerning, for example, impaired driving, youth cannabis use, and product quality control.

If Maryland voters approve of marijuana legalization in November, the measure wouldn’t take immediate effect. Low-level cannabis possession would become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, subject to a $100 fine up to 1.5 ounces and $250 up to 2.5 ounces. Full legalization of up to 1.5 ounces would take effect in the summer of 2023.

The proposed reform’s chances of passing look promising according to polling on the issue. One survey found more than two-thirds of Marylanders are in favor of legalizing cannabis, with just 28 percent opposed.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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