Ferguson Taking Over from Zirkin as Senate Chair of Marijuana Workgroup

    The General Assembly’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup hasn’t met yet, and already it’s under new management.

    The workgroup is set to have its debut meeting in Annapolis on Tuesday afternoon, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has named a new co-chair: State Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).

    The job was supposed to go to Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), but Zirkin’s mother died last week, and he told Senate leaders recently that he preferred a slightly less heavy legislative workload in the short term. House Majority Leader Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) will be the other co-chair of the work group.

    While there will be myriad legal and criminal justice issues confronting the workgroup – hence, the initial assignment of Zirkin and Dumais, the former vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to lead it – any legislation that emerges will have profound budgetary implications, which is why Ferguson’s appointment makes sense. He’s the vice chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

    “I think there is a large question on what will be the impact on revenue,” Ferguson said in an interview Monday. “There was an interest in having a Budget and Tax perspective on the workgroup.”

    The workgroup begins its work as another workgroup, dealing with how to produce revenues for the education reform recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, also gets underway. Ferguson happens to be a member of that panel as well.

    “I suspect they may be related,” he joked.

    Tuesday’s inaugural meeting of the workgroup, at 1 p.m. in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Services Building, will hear from the Network for Public Health Law about state and federal marijuana laws across the country, and will feature a briefing about the state’s medical cannabis program.

    When legislative leaders announced the creation of the workgroup earlier this year, they said it would be tasked with examining:

    • The health and criminal justice impacts of legalizing recreational cannabis
    • How to set up tax and licensing structures, and other states’ regulatory models and best practices
    • The public health impacts of cannabis legalization
    • Challenges relating to federal tax and banking laws
    • Ways the State can ensure and promote small, minority and women-owned business participation.

    More than 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational and/or medical cannabis in recent years.

    “There are a lot of open questions,” Ferguson said. “It’s not simply legalize or not legalize. I think we’ve learned some tough lessons from the medical marijuana” legalization process.

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.