A Maryland lawmaker has unveiled a bill to place a cannabis legalization ballot measure before the state’s voters next year. The legislation, House Bill 1, was pre-filed by Democratic Del. Luke Clippinger and will be introduced when the Maryland General Assembly convenes on January 12, 2022.
If approved by lawmakers, the bill would place the question “Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in the State of Maryland?” on ballots for the November 2022 general election. To pass, the measure must receive a supermajority of at least three-fifths of the votes in both the Senate and House of Delegates.
If the referendum is passed by voters, the state constitution would be amended to legalize the use and possession of cannabis by adults 21 and older, beginning in July 2023. Lawmakers would also be required to pass further legislation to regulate the “use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state,” according to the text of the bill, which was published online last week.
Advocates for cannabis legalization expressed support for the bill but called on lawmakers to make changes including allowing home cultivation of marijuana, adding provisions to foster social equity in the cannabis industry, and immediate legalization of personal possession upon passage of the legislation.
“While we are grateful legislative leaders are prioritizing cannabis legalization in 2022, we are disappointed the pre-filed House referendum would continue the devastating war on cannabis for months after voters legalize cannabis,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We strongly urge legislators to revise the proposal to legalize possession and home cultivation upon enactment.”
“We also urge the legislature to pass implementing legislation in 2022 to ensure racial justice is at the heart of legalization, and to allow for a more timely transition to a safe, regulated market,” O’Keefe added.
A Goucher College poll published in March found that nearly two-thirds of Maryland residents support legalizing cannabis, including 77% of Democrats, 50% of Republicans and 60% of independent voters. Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, noted that the poll marked the first time Republican support for cannabis legalization in the state had reached at least 50%.
Legislative Group Studying Cannabis Legalization
Clippinger chairs Maryland’s House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which was assembled in September to study issues related to the legalization of cannabis in the state.
The working group of 10 members of the Maryland House of Delegates is tasked with creating a plan to legalize cannabis for use by adults while addressing the damage created by the War on Drugs. The bipartisan legislative group was appointed by House Speaker Adrienne Jones this summer, who said at the time that she would like to see a cannabis legalization referendum on the ballot for the November 2022 election.
“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 said in July. “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.”
The group was tasked with studying issues related to cannabis legalization including the licensing and oversight of businesses growing, processing and selling recreational marijuana. The panel also discussed the expungement of previous marijuana convictions, social equity measures to address the harms caused by prohibition and ways to encourage equitable representation in the cannabis industry.
Jason Buckel, the Republican minority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates and a member of the cannabis working group, said that lawmakers have yet to reach a consensus on the best path to cannabis legalization.
“The House and Senate are not often on the same page. The Senate president’s approach seems to be to simply pass a bill legalizing recreational cannabis with a wide variety of regulation and rules to it,” Buckel said at an event earlier this month, as quoted by the Cumberland Times-News. “The Speaker of the House is less sanguine about that and would prefer to place it on a referendum in 2022 and let the voters decide.”
“I think it will probably wind up a referendum,” Buckel predicted.