2017 brings new opportunity for progress
Last update: January 17, 2017
The most recent 2016 poll shows that 61% of Marylanders — and 64% of likely voters — want the legislature to end prohibition by taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use. This is a dramatic increase over just two years before, when 54% of Marylanders supported legalization. MPP, along with our allies in the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition, is working hard to pass a bill to do just that. The bill has also been changed to address equity and efficiency concerns that arose during implementation of the medical program in Maryland, allow more small businesses to participate, and ensure that people are not unfairly excluded from participation in the industry.
To find out when the bill will be introduced and get involved in helping pass this important reform, please sign up for alerts from the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition, and consider donating to or endorsing the coalition. You can also email your lawmakers in support of ending marijuana prohibition.
Medical marijuana program implementation slow and controversial
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) has announced which businesses received preliminary licenses to grow, process, and dispense medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the MMCC did not “actively seek to achieve ethnic [and] racial diversity” as required by law. As a result, the legislative Black Caucus has announced plans to introduce emergency legislation in order to ensure greater diversity. None of the growers are led by African Americans, who make up around a third of the state’s population and a disproportionate share of those who have been criminalized for marijuana possession. A compromise solution would increase the arbitrary cap of 15 licenses, allowing more diverse businesses to enter the new industry, while ensuring that existing businesses can move forward to get medicine to suffering patients as quickly as possible.
Dispensaries are expected to finally begin opening in mid-to-late 2017, meaning that Maryland will have one of the slowest rollouts of any comparable state. The impact on patients is exacerbated by the fact that Maryland does not allow patients to grow their own medicine.
2016 brought full decriminalization — with unintended consequences
MPP and our allies made significant progress rolling back Maryland’s war on marijuana in recent years. In 2014, Maryland passed legislation that replaced criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana — 10 grams or less — 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 that included the baggie the marijuana was in), and it overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto on February 20, 2016.
Unfortunately, some overly-aggressive law enforcement agents don’t want to give up their ability to prosecute low-level marijuana offenders. They have been charging individuals with “possession with intent to distribute,” a felony offense, simply for having a couple of baggies of marijuana, even though the entire amount was under 10 grams. This means that people are being charged with a felony even though they should just be subject to a civil fine. It illustrates one reason why decriminalization alone does not go far enough —the entire system of marijuana cultivation, distribution, and possession should be brought out of the criminal market so that it can be taxed and regulated.
Attempt to move backwards defeated
MPP and our allies played a key role in defeating several bills in 2016 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 passed the House of Delegates. Click here to find out how your delegate(s) voted; you can look up your delegate(s) here. 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.
Thank you for supporting MPP. To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Maryland, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s alerts.