Maryland Speaker Announces Support for Referendum to Legalize Cannabis

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House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said Friday that she will support a referendum on the 2022 ballot to decide whether marijuana should be legalized.

While maintaining her own reservations, Jones announced the creation of a cannabis workgroup, which will create a plan for a legal marijuana industry in Maryland, if approved by voters.

“While I have personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” Jones (D-Baltimore County) said in a statement. “The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to State law now.”

She also announced members of the House Cannabis Workgroup, which will be headed by House Judiciary Chair Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City).

“Cannabis use has had a disparate impact on people of color for too long with no real impact on public safety,” Clippinger said in a statement. “This Workgroup will establish the legal frameworks necessarily to fully implement legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said Friday that his chamber also intends to move forward with a legalized marijuana program next session.

“Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational cannabis for adult use,” Ferguson said. “Maryland must do the same, and a large majority of Marylanders in both political parties support an equitable framework that immediately addresses the injustices in our current criminal justice system.”

A Goucher Poll in March found that two-thirds of Marylanders — including 77% of registered Democrats and 50% of Republicans — supported legalization of recreational marijuana use.

In 2019, Ferguson co-chaired the General Assembly’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup with Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery). While that panel reached consensus in several areas, it did not spark a concerted effort to pass legislation.

“The Senate continues to be ready to move a fair, just and equitable program forward, and we intend to do so during the 2022 session,” Ferguson said.

The House workgroup announced by Jones on Friday will have a particular focus on equity, and consideration of Black and Brown neighborhoods and businesses that have been historically most affected by cannabis use.

The workgroup will, among other tasks:

  • Propose a regulatory, licensing and oversight structure for a recreational cannabis industry, including the application process, the number of licenses and policies for ensuring racial equity in ownership of marijuana businesses;
  • Address expungement of previous convictions for marijuana charges and the dismissal of pending marijuana charges;
  • Craft policies for the potential release of people incarcerated solely for marijuana-related crimes;
  • Identify changes to Maryland’s criminal and traffic laws;
  • Construct social equity programs to compensate communities affected by over-incarceration for marijuana-related crimes;
  • Expand substance abuse treatment programs; and
  • Craft a taxation structure and revenue distribution from cannabis proceeds.

The workgroup will include subcommittees on taxation, health effects, criminal justice and business effects.

House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) will chair the Cannabis Taxation Subcommittee; Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel, Prince George’s) will chair the Health Determinants Subcommittee; Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) will chair the Business Implementation Subcommittee; Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) will chair the Criminal Justice Impacts Subcommittee.

Other members of the workgroup are:

  • Legislative Black Caucus Chair Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s),
  • House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany),
  • Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery),
  • Robin Grammer (R-Baltimore County),
  • Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) and
  • Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s).

The workgroup will begin meeting in the fall. All meetings will be livestreamed through the Maryland General Assembly website.

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