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Election 2022 Justice

Report: cannabis retail sales could reach $72 billion, but some may not reap the benefits

The House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization work group meets virtually Nov 1. Screenshot and photo courtesy of Maryland General Assembly.

A report shows the nationwide cannabis market lacks Black-owned businesses and that some goals that states have set to boost the industry are unclear.

Those assessments are highlighted in a document that the Maryland House of Delegates’ Cannabis Referendum and Legalization work group reviewed Tuesday. The virtual discussion took place one week before Election Day when Marylanders will cast votes for or against making recreational use of cannabis legal for for adults 21 and older.

If voters approve this amendment to the Constitution of Maryland, the General Assembly, which authorized the referendum, will have to pass laws governing possession, use, distribution, regulation and taxation of cannabis in Maryland.

Know your ballot: The five constitutional questions facing Maryland voters this election year

The document projected that nationwide sales in the industry could balloon from the current $32 billion to potentially $72 billion by 2030.

“We know that the cannabis industry is a profitable industry,” said Mathew Swinburne, who prepared the report and is associate director of Network for Public Health Law-Eastern Region of Baltimore.

“This is a new industry that is filled with economic opportunity and that opportunity is only growing,” he said. Although this industry presents some significant economic opportunities, communities of color are missing out on this cannabis boom.”

Swinburne’s report notes jobs in the cannabis industry in the United States increased from 321,000 in 2020 to 428,000 the following year.

However, 81% of those businesses are owned by whites and 58% of them employ no minority workers.

Approximately 19 states and the District of Columbia allow adult recreational use of cannabis, but only some states offer some form of diversity, equity and inclusion policies. Alaska, Maine, Montana and Oregon don’t offer specific social equity programs, according to Swinburne’s research.

He also provided some particulars on how the cannabis industry is working in other states:

  • Connecticut – Provides financial incentives for medical cannabis business owners to partner and assist a new small or minority-owned business during a specified timeframe.
  • Massachusetts – Allows a courier and delivery operator to provide cannabis products directly to customers.
  • New York – Created a $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Fund for individuals who apply for a dispensary license and were convicted of a cannabis-related offense before the state legalized adult use.

Various polls show Maryland could become the 20th state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. With that momentum, state lawmakers are pushing to make the state a model for the nation.

If voters approve legalization by voting for Question 4, more work would have to be done, such as altering civil and criminal cannabis-related penalties, establishing a fund to assist small and minority-owned businesses and establishing a health advisory council to assess, study and promote public health campaigns on cannabis.

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County), chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, asked how other states are taxing cannabis in ways to deter black market or illegal sales.

“That’s a definite challenge states are confronted with,” Swinburne said. “If your goal is to decrease the share of the unlicensed market, you have to keep your licensed market competitive. It’s important to highlight with the tax revenue you get, there’s a moral obligation to use some of that for addressing the harms that were caused [in low-income communities].”

Sen. Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s) asked if any states that approved adult use implemented policies, such as a disparity study, that had “to produce evidence of their race concise remedies.” Swinburne said the report didn’t assess that.

Meanwhile, voters interviewed by Maryland Matters this week had mixed reactions to the prospect of legalizing cannabis.

Mark Marchione of Baltimore County voted early and against Question 4. He said the vote was personal for him because his son started smoking cannabis as a teenager, but is now 31 and hasn’t smoked it in five years.

“This will allow more access for young people to get it,” Marchione said. “[Young people can] have someone who is 21 and buy it for someone younger. I don’t think you want more young people to have access to it.”

Tamara McKinney of Prince George’s County said she plans to vote for legalization, but hopes the rollout would provide resources for Black and brown communities and those who have been incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses.

“De-criminalizing it helps keep our men out of the [criminal justice] system. But if it helps to keep them out the system, what are we doing to keep them out [of jail]?” she said. “I want them to have more resources than just the ability to get high.”

The cannabis work group plans convene again Nov. 15, exactly one week after Election Day.