A Maryland lawmaker pre-filed a bill that would put a marijuana legalization question on this year’s state ballot.
Del. Luke Clippinger (D), chairman of a cannabis legalization workgroup, is behind the measure – House Bill 1 – which is set to receive priority in Maryland’s legislature for the upcoming session. It will be formally introduced on January 12 and will receive its first hearing in the Judiciary Committee, where Clippinger also serves as chair.
If approved by the legislature, the proposed constitutional amendment voters will decide upon is worded as follows:
“Do you favor the legalization of adult–use cannabis in the State of Maryland?”
If a majority of voters are in favor of the move, lawmakers would then be charged with establishing a framework for the “use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”
While marijuana legalization advocates in Maryland are pleased at the prospect of a public vote on the issue, there are concerns at the delayed start date – July 1, 2023 – for the measure to take effect. This would mean simple cannabis possession would remain prohibited for eight months after the vote.
In contrast, New York legalized low-level possession almost immediately after a marijuana legalization bill was signed into law. Arizona, meanwhile, launched legal sales of cannabis less than three months after a voter-approved ballot initiative.
Advocates are also displeased that the proposed constitutional amendment would not compel lawmakers to allow adults to grow their own cannabis plants 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. “We strongly urge legislators to revise the proposal to legalize possession and home cultivation upon enactment.”
The House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup Clippinger chairs was established by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D) last year with the intention of putting the question to voters via a referendum. The group held its first meeting in September, where it discussed issues pertaining to the reform including licensing, expungements, criminal and traffic laws, social equity and tax policies.
Polls indicate the measure would stand a good chance of gaining voter approval should it make it to the ballot, with more than two-thirds in favor of legalization. The fact that neighboring Virginia recently enacted the reform is likely to build even greater support for legal cannabis in Maryland.
Jones’ counterpart, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D), is also in favor of the reform, but believes it should be up to the legislature to quickly pass a marijuana legalization bill.
Ferguson’s attempt to do so last year faltered, with the House and Senate unable to agree on a proposal to send to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk. Maryland’s governor is no advocate for marijuana legalization, but has indicated he is open to the move.
However, Hogan recently vetoed a bill that would have decriminalized drug paraphernalia possession. The Senate then decided to “indefinitely postpone” the legislation.