Maryland House Passes Bill for Voter Referendum on Cannabis Legalization 

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that would leave adult-use cannabis legalization up to voters in an upcoming election and reverse cannabis-related convictions.

Full story after the jump.

The Maryland House of Delegates on Friday approved a bill that would allow voters to decide in November whether to legalize cannabis for adults, the Baltimore Sun reports. The proposal, which still requires Senate approval, leaves regulatory details up to the General Assembly were voters to approve the reforms. It would take effect July 2023.

A Goucher College poll conducted last March found two-thirds of Maryland voters support cannabis legalization, including 77% of Democrats (18% opposed), 50% of Republicans (47% opposed), and 60% of independents (34% opposed).

Democratic Del. Luke Clippinger, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told the Sun that the bill amounts to “important first steps” to cannabis reforms in the state, including reversing cannabis-related convictions. Currently, possession of 10 grams or more of cannabis is a misdemeanor in Maryland, which can be met with six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000. First-time offenders caught with less than 10 grams are subject to a $100 fine, the report says.

“Those thousands of incarcerations have not made us safer,” he said in the report.

According to a legislative analysis, in 2020, there were 1,072 arrests in Maryland for low-level possession, of which 59% of people were Black, 39% white, and 2% Asian. The report found that Black Marylanders are twice as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession compared with their share of the state’s population (29%).

A companion bill, which was also approved on Friday, would allow people charged only with cannabis possession to have their records expunged from the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website and the state’s criminal records database, while those currently incarcerated could apply to the court to have their sentence reduced to time served. The legislation would allow individuals over 21-years-old to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis after July 1, 2023, while amounts from between 1.5 ounces to 2.5 ounces would be reduced to a civil offense instead of a misdemeanor, the report says.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has not taken a position on the reforms but has indicated he would prefer a voter referendum over a legislative decision. The bills move next to the Senate.

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