Maryland’s legislative leaders are working to convene a work group to study the legalization of recreational marijuana use in the state.
House Majority Leader Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) will be the House chair for the joint committee, which is expected to be comprised of more than a dozen members.
Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said he was also asked to co-chair the panel.
The topic has been long-simmering in Annapolis since medical cannabis was authorized in 2012. Two years later, the state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
But while lawmakers consider bills to legalize marijuana each year, more needs to be done to drill down to the issues about how the state would roll out a legalization program if passed, Dumais and Zirkin said.
“Assuming we move in that direction, the other states that have moved in that direction have had really complicated issues,” said Zirkin, who personally supports legalization for adult consumption, but can rattle off dozens of unresolved legal issues that would need to be addressed before a change in state law.
On Tuesday, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D) announced her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession, regardless of defendants’ criminal records, and that she would seek to expunge thousands of past cases.
“We need to get serious about prioritizing what actually makes us safe,” Mosby said Tuesday. “And no one who is serious about public safety can honestly say that spending resources to jail people for marijuana use is a smart way to use our limited time and money.”
Montgomery County Dels. David Moon (D) and Eric Luedtke (D) plan separate pieces of legislation this session that aim to legalize the adult consumption of marijuana in the state.
Moon, who will introduce a constitutional amendment on legalization that would land the issue on the 2020 ballot, said Wednesday that, in Washington state, it was decisions by prosecutors in Seattle and other big cities that propelled the legislature to act to decriminalize. Moves like those by Mosby shift the political debate and it is no longer politically harmful to be seen as more lenient on issues like marijuana decriminalization and legalization, Moon said.
“I think it helps prove that the political incentives are shifting,” he said.
Luedtke, who plans a bill to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana sales, said he supported Mosby’s decision in Baltimore, but doesn’t think it will necessarily change the conversation in Annapolis.
“We are headed to legalization as it is,” he said.
A major force in the legislature, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), panned Mosby’s decision on Wednesday.
“Ms. Mosby is wrong. There are drug dealers in Baltimore city that need to be prosecuted. The laws need to be uniform across the state,” Miller said. “We don’t need any drug dealers forgiven in Baltimore City.”
Miller lamented, among other things, drug sales to young people in the city as a major problem.
House Majority Leader Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery)
His office and House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s office did not comment Wednesday evening about the creation of the joint work group.
Dumais said the work group may convene during the current legislative session and would use proposed bills as a jumping-off point for their work, but isn’t likely to make immediate recommendations about the creation of a legalized marijuana industry.
Marijuana legalization bills filed last year failed to get votes in committee. In 2016, the House Judiciary Committee voted against a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.
Dumais said she doesn’t think there’s likely to be a vote on marijuana legalization this session.
“We intend to be working during the interim as well,” she said. “… We want to be sure we do this the correct way.”
Zirkin said the bills filed this year will provide an important start to deeper conversations about creating a legalized industry.
Dumais said the work group’s scope would include looking at the legalized marijuana industries in other states to learn what they’ve done right or wrong, research on tax structures, issues like motor vehicle collisions and scientific research.
“We want to be sure we hear from everybody, that we have time to review the scientific research,” Dumais said. “… We’ve got a lot to do.”
Bruce DePuyt and Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.