Policy makers in Maryland may end the marijuana prohibition during the 2019 legislative session.
Two bills and a constitutional amendment addressing the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana have been introduced in the Old Line state.
SB 0771, sponsored by State Sen. William C. Smith Jr., and HB 0656, sponsored by Delegate Eric Luedtke, if adopted as introduced would legalize cannabis for recreational use for adults 21 and older.
The bills would also establish a regulation and taxation system for cannabis. Additionally, convictions for cannabis possession and cultivation from before the legalization of marijuana would be automatically expunged.
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Delegate David Moon filed a state constitutional amendment, HB 0632, which would also establish a similar state pot policy.
The amendment differs from the two bill proposals in that, if the amendment is enacted, it will be placed on the state ballot, and the issue will be decided upon by Maryland voters in November.
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The House Bill
The marijuana policy trend
Pot seems to be a popular policy topic in the 2019 legislative session. States such as Kentucky, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and now Maryland are all being swept up in the move to end the prohibition of marijuana.
Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch said that, regardless of one’s position on pot, it seems to be the wave of the future.
“I think you’re going to see the country go to legalizing recreational marijuana and, you know, it’ll be much like overturning prohibition,” Busch told the Associated Press, adding that he wanted to invest any tax revenue from marijuana sales to education.
The state House of Delegates and the Senate are not the only policymaking bodies pursuing pot-politics. Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in a statement that her office would no longer pursue marijuana possession cases and would actively pursue to clear the criminal records of people with prior cannabis convictions dating back to 2011.
“We need to get serious about prioritizing what actually makes us safe, 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,” Mosby said.
While the state attorney’s office will still prosecute individuals for felony possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, but first-time offenders will be diverted to diversion programs rather than incarceration.
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Luedtke told local newspaper Maryland Matters that the prosecutorial change Baltimore is a step in the right direction, and reflects a growing political trend in the state.
“We are headed to legalization as it is,” Luedtke said.
Olivia Naugle, Legislative Coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed.
“A strong and steadily growing majority of Marylanders think it is time to end cannabis prohibition,” she said in a statement. “One way or another, cannabis is going to become legal for adults in Maryland.”
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The Senate version
What would the bills and constitutional amendment do if enacted?
Smith Jr., author of the Senate version of the marijuana bill, is a veteran cannabis advocate. During the 2017 legislative session, Smith Jr. was part of a coalition that attempted to push recreational legalization forward, but the bill failed to pass.
The newly proposed SB 0771 would tax marijuana sales at six percent. Revenue from taxation would go toward substance abuse treatment, driving under the influence prevention, education, and investment in communities that have been disproportionately affected by the prohibition on marijuana.
Specifically, tax revenue would go toward the restorative justice component of the proposed legislation. Funds would go to help fund the automatic expungement of past cannabis possession and cultivation convictions.
“These bills propose a sensible system in which cannabis is regulated, taxed, and treated similarly to alcohol,” Naugle said in a statement. “They would bring cannabis production and sales above ground so that they can be conducted by licensed, taxpaying businesses rather than criminal enterprises.”
“Most importantly, this legislation would improve public health and safety, but it would also have the bonus of generating significant new tax revenue for the state,” Naugle concluded.
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A Goucher Poll conducted in September 2018 found that 62 percent of Marylanders support legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults over 21. Only one-third of residents are opposed, according to the poll.
“States around the country are rolling back prohibition and finding that regulating cannabis works. Maryland has the opportunity to learn from other states, determine what has worked, and what can be improved, and develop a system that can serve as an example for the rest of the country,” Naugle said.