Maryland governor lets bill implement marijuana legalization go into effect without his signature
The Republican governor of Maryland announced on Friday that he would not oppose the implementation of marijuana legalization if voters approve of the reform in the November ballot.
Governor Larry Hogan (right) has included cannabis legislation in a list of bills he does not sign or veto, but allows to take effect without his signature.
Last week, the Senate and House of Delegates approved separate measures to hold a referendum before voters on whether the state should legalize marijuana and begin implementing reform if the ballot issue is approved.
HB 1, the referendum measure, and HB 837, the implementation bill, were sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who chairs the Judiciary Committee and led a cannabis legislative task force formed by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D).
The old bill simply puts legalization on the ballot and, because it is a constitutional amendment, is not subject to action by the governor.
HB 837, meanwhile, sets ground rules for the adult use program if voters approve the referendum. These provisions mainly concern issues such as sanctions and disbarment. It is this bill that Hogan has announced will go into effect without him putting pen to paper.
Under the law that would be enacted if voters approved legalization on the ballot, the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be legal for adults. The legislation would also remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults 21 and older would be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without compensation.
Previous convictions for conduct made lawful under the proposed law would be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses would be eligible for a new sentence. The legislation ensures that those convicted of possession with intent to distribute can apply to the courts for expungement three years after serving their sentence.
The bill was also amended throughout the legislative process. For example, language was attached to create a community reinvestment fund and allow state tax deductions for certain cannabis-related expenses that marijuana businesses are not allowed to claim under the current federal tax code.
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“Maryland is on the verge of replacing the disastrous policy of prohibition with fair legalization,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policy for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “The Legislature has put in place important provisions to legalize possession and home cultivation, to expunge certain records and release certain cannabis prisoners, and to lay the groundwork to foster a fair industry with community redress and reinvestment.”
A separate bill, SB 833 by Sen. Brian Feldman (D), as originally introduced, would have created industry-specific regulations — regarding tax policy, licensing, and more. – which would also have been conditional on the voters’ approval of the referendum question.
But while some senators pushed for more prescriptive legislation, arguing that voters should know more about the kind of market that would emerge before heading to the polls in November, Feldman’s bill was largely replaced by the language of HB 837. As such, lawmakers will return to the issue of commercial cannabis regulation next year if voters approve the referendum.
The approved legislation would further create a Cannabis Business Relief Fund to support equity initiatives for minority and women-owned businesses. This fund would be earmarked for incubators and educational programs aimed at promoting the participation in the industry of those most affected by criminalization.
To understand the effects of legalization on the state and its residents, the bill would also establish various research initiatives, including studies on youth impacts, usage patterns, impaired driving, advertising, labelling, product quality control and barriers to entry into the industry. A baseline study would be conducted before legalization and updates would be sent to the governor every two months.
If voters approve the legalization in November, it will not take effect immediately. Possession of small amounts of cannabis would become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, punishable by a fine of $100 for up to 1.5 ounces, or $250 for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2, 5 oz. Legalization up to 1.5 ounces would not occur for six months.
Proponents disputed this extended deadline. Getting the legalization of possession to take effect sooner was among several demands they made that have not been incorporated into the now-passed legislation. For example, activists also wanted lawmakers to include a provision prohibiting police from using only the smell of marijuana as the basis of a search.
Another potential problem advocates have identified is the proposed equity allocation. The bill would provide some funding to jurisdictions with the most cannabis-related arrests; and while black people are more likely to face cannabis criminalization on average, some of the counties in Maryland where marijuana arrests have been most common are mostly white, which could undermine the intent of the law. reform provision.
As noted, some senators, including Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D), have expressed skepticism about delaying creating regulations for the marijuana market until next year. However, last month Ferguson signaled his openness to the idea of the referendum, but stressed that voters deserved to know more details about what a legal cannabis market would look like than what is provided in the bills. from the room.
It was a notable change given that the chief senator said last year that he favored legalizing cannabis through the legislature rather than waiting to ask voters in the November ballot.
Another legalization bill introduced by Sen. Jill Carter (D) last month was considered in committee in February, but did not move forward.
Meanwhile, a separate competing legalization bill on the House side, HB 1342, was introduced in February by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D). He had a brief committee hearing last month, but never received a vote.
Maryland lawmakers are also considering separate legislation this year to decriminalize drug possession and fund access to psychedelics for therapeutic purposes.
As for marijuana, legalization began to move forward during the last session of the Maryland Legislature, but ultimately no vote was taken. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last March on a legalization bill sponsored by Feldman and Ferguson. This followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal in February.
Lawmakers then worked to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate proposals in hopes of getting something out of the governor’s desk. Hogan did not approve of legalization but signaled that he might be open to the idea.
A poll in October found that state residents agreed with the policy change. According to a Goucher College survey, two-thirds (67%) of Marylanders now support the legalization of cannabis. Only 28% oppose it.
Maryland legalized medical marijuana through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams with a civil fine of 100 to 500 dollars. Since then, however, a number of efforts to pursue marijuana reform have failed.
A bill to expand the possession threshold for decriminalization to one ounce passed the House in 2020 but was never taken up in the Senate.
Also that year, the governor vetoed a bill that would have protected people with low-level cannabis convictions from having their records published in a state database. In a veto statement, he said it was because lawmakers failed to pass a separate non-cannabis measure aimed at tackling violent crime.
In 2017, Hogan declined to answer a question about whether voters should be able to decide the issue, but by mid-2018 he had signed a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana system. State and said full legalization was worth considering: “At this point, I think it’s worth taking a look at,” he said at the time.
As for Maryland lawmakers, a House committee in 2019 held hearings on two bills that would have legalized marijuana. Although these proposals did not pass, they encouraged many hesitant lawmakers to start seriously considering change.
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