Lawmakers in Maryland passed legislation over the weekend to regulate commercial cannabis production and sales after months of negotiation on issues including social equity and taxation. The bill, which sets the stage for regulated recreational marijuana sales to begin on July 1, now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Wes Moore.
The Maryland Senate passed the bill with amendments on Friday by a vote of 30-12. The House of Delegates, which originally approved the measure on March 10, passed the amended version of the legislation on Saturday with a 104-35 vote, sending the bill to Moore for consideration. The governor, who supported efforts to legalize cannabis for adults in Maryland, is expected to sign the bill, according to a report from the Washington Post.
After the bill’s passage, lawmakers said that they drew on Maryland’s experience legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis and regulatory efforts in other states to draft the legislation to legalize the production and sale of recreational marijuana.
“We’ve been talking with our counterparts in other states saying, ‘If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently? What did you wish you had known when you set up your program?’” Democratic Senator Melony Griffith, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said at a press conference. “We have great expertise here in Maryland, with our medicinal cannabis program, and have had tremendous success. So all of those ingredients, if you will, have been rolled into our cannabis framework.”
In November, Maryland voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Question 4, a state referendum that was approved with nearly two-thirds of the vote. The bill passed by the legislature on Saturday sets the stage for legalization to take effect, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to two cannabis plants at home, beginning on July 1.
Under the legislation, a new regulation and enforcement division would be created within the state’s existing Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which would be renamed the Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission. The legislation includes provisions to guide the regulation of cannabis production and sales and sets a 9% tax on recreational marijuana purchases.
Lawmakers Block New Amendment To Further Restrict Dispensaries
Before the bill was passed in the House, Republican Delegate Wayne A. Hartman proposed an amendment that would increase the mandatory minimum distance separating cannabis dispensaries from 500 feet to one mile. The proposal also would have required dispensaries to be at least one mile away from schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries.
“So, we couldn’t put a dispensary anywhere in Ocean City because there’s nowhere that spans a mile between any of these things?” asked House Economic Matters chair C.T. Wilson.
“I can’t tell you I’m heartbroken by that,” Hartman replied.
But Wilson said that the residents of Hartman’s district might feel differently, noting that voters approved the referendum to legalize adult-use cannabis in Maryland with more than two-thirds of the vote statewide.
“They asked us to do this,” he said. “They asked us to do this in a fair and equitable way. They asked us to make sure we didn’t stick them all in one place and to make sure that anybody who wanted to buy does have access.”
Social Equity A Priority
To help promote equity in the cannabis industry and ownership by those negatively affected by marijuana prohibition, the first licenses awarded in Maryland will be reserved for social equity applicants. To qualify, an applicant must have at least 65% ownership by an individual who lived in a “disproportionately impacted area” for five of the last 10 years or attended a public school in such an area. The bill also creates a new Office of Social Equity in the cannabis division to promote participation by “people from communities that have previously been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs,” Wilson said at a committee hearing for the bill last month.
Brian Vicente, founding partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, lauded the approval of the cannabis commerce legalization bill by the Maryland legislature.
“Maryland continues its charge towards legalization with the House and Senate sending a regulatory bill to the governor’s desk to establish a robust, adult-use licensing structure,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “This law will increase the number of cannabis businesses, and the first round of new business owners will be social equity applicants. Since state voters passed legalization by almost 70%, it’s unsurprising that the Maryland legislature is moving quickly to implement the voter’s will. They remain firmly on target to begin adult-use sales by July 1.”