Maryland voters would decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in November, under a bill approved by the House of Delegates on Friday.
The House voted 96-34 for the constitutional amendment, sending it to the Senate. The House also voted 92-37 for a separate bill that includes initial steps that would be taken if voters approve. However, issues relating to licensing and taxation would be taken up by lawmakers next year.
The Senate is considering a separate bill that would put a regulatory framework in place sooner without a constitutional amendment.
Under the House legislation, recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over would be legal July 1, 2023.
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It would make changes in criminal law and create automatic expungements of past marijuana possession convictions. It also would automatically expunge the conviction of anyone previously found guilty of simple possession of marijuana, if it was the only charge in the case. In addition, it allows for resentencing of those convicted of marijuana charges.
Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who is sponsoring the measure, said Maryland was at the beginning of an important process in reexamining how the state has treated cannabis and the incarceration of thousands.
“We stand here today as a body to begin the process to take these first steps to legalizing cannabis, to looking next year to see how the regulatory part would work, how the taxation part would work, but taking the important first steps now in the areas of public safety and public health to make sure that we do this, that we do it right, and we do it through a lens of equity," Clippinger, who is the House Judiciary Committee, said.
Del. Haven Shoemaker said the legislation puts off important studies into health and impaired driving until after passage of the constitutional amendment. The Carroll County Republican said the proposal is “putting the marijuana cart before the proverbial horse" and wasn't “quite ready for prime time.”
“If you think it is, maybe you’re smoking something, I’m not sure, but I’ll be voting no," Shoemaker, who is the House minority whip, said.
Now, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is a civil violation in Maryland, with a fine of up to $100 for a first offense.
The bill would allow Marylanders more than 21 years old to possess up to 1.5 ounces of recreational cannabis without penalty. Possession of over 1.5 ounces of cannabis and up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis would be reduced to a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor.
Possession of more than 2.5 ounces would be a misdemeanor with penalties of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000, also starting Jan. 1.
Maryland would be required to develop race- and gender-neutral approaches to addressing the needs of minority and women applicants who seek to participate in the marijuana business. The legislation also creates a fund to help small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses entering the industry.
Currently, 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, have fully legalized marijuana. There also are 37 states, including Maryland, that have legalized medical marijuana.
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