2016 brings full decriminalization
Last update: August 15, 2016
MPP and our allies have been making steady progress rolling back Maryland’s war on marijuana. In 2014, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation to replace criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine. In 2015, the General Assembly passed Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s SB 517, which completed the reform by decriminalizing the possession of marijuana paraphernalia (a term which included the baggie the marijuana was in), but this was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan. Thankfully, the legislature overrode his veto, so on February 20, 2016, marijuana possession was fully decriminalized.
Meanwhile, while eliminating criminal penalties for adults who choose to use a substance that is safer than alcohol is a great step forward, the most recent poll shows that 54% of Marylanders want the legislature to go further and tax and regulate marijuana.
While a bill to tax and regulate marijuana did not move forward during this year’s session, which ended in April, we are already gearing up for a strong push next year. To get involved in helping pass this important reform, you can support the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition and email your lawmakers in support of ending marijuana prohibition.
Attempt to move backwards defeated
Several bills were introduced in the 2016 session that would have taken the state in the wrong direction by recriminalizing smoking marijuana in public — which was already punishable by a civil fine of up to $500. Criminal convictions result in more than 150 collateral consequences and can derail dreams by making it difficult to get jobs, housing, and an education. In addition, it is likely that racial disparities in enforcement would have continued.
One of these bills, HB 777, passed the House of Delegates. If you’d like to find out how your delegate(s) voted, click here; you can look up your delegate(s) here. Another unwise bill, which would have criminalized smoking marijuana in a parked car, also passed the house. Luckily, after strong resistance from MPP and others, Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Bobby Zirkin refused to move these bills forward, and they died in his committee.
Also in 2016, the General Assembly passed a bill, HB 104, that will improve Maryland’s medical cannabis program by expanding the list of providers who can recommend it. The list will now include dentists, podiatrists, and nurse practitioners, all of whom can already prescribe far more dangerous drugs, such as opioid painkillers. Gov. Hogan signed the bill, which will take effect June 1, 2017.
In addition, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has determined which cultivators and processors will receive preliminary licenses and will do the same for dispensaries this fall. Dispensaries are expected to finally open in the summer of 2017, meaning that Maryland will have one of the slowest rollouts of comparable states.
A brief history: Maryland’s first medical marijuana law merely prevented patients who had been charged with possessing up to an ounce of marijuana from being convicted if they could prove medical necessity. Then in 2013, Maryland lawmakers approved a law creating an unworkable research-based program that depended on teaching hospitals, which were unwilling to risk their federal funding to participate. Finally in 2014, Maryland passed a workable medical marijuana law, which allows qualifying patients to possess up to a 30-day supply of medical marijuana (as determined by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission) and allows licensed dispensaries to distribute medical marijuana grown by a maximum of 15 licensed cultivators. Patients and caregivers are not permitted to grown their own marijuana.
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