Maryland lawmakers have been grappling with the idea of legalizing recreational cannabis for several months. In February, 2019 the Maryland General Assembly filed 2 bills to legalize recreational cannabis. Immediately after that filing came the announcement that legalization efforts would not go forward. Instead, a bipartisan work group was to be formed by Senate President Miller and the late House Speaker Busch, who died this past April. No timeline was given as to when this work group would convene. The purpose of this group is to make recommendations for viable legalization bills by the end of 2019. This article discusses the agenda of the work group’s first meeting in Annapolis on June 25, 2019.
The members of the group include:
Dem delegates Jay Walker, Vanessa Atterbeary, Eric Bromwell, David Moon and Sandy Rosenberg
Dem senators Jill Carter, Melony Griffith, Guy Guzzone, Doulgas Peters and Jeff Waldstreicher
Republican delegates Nic Kipke and Katy Szeliga
Republican senators Stephen Hershey and Chris West
According to Democratic Delegate Kathleen Dumais, co-chair of the task force, the work group will form the following subcommittees:
- Study the impact of legalization on criminal justice
- Study the impact of legalization on public health
- Consider the best practices for taxation and licensure
- Ensure the participation of woman-owned and minority-owned businesses
- Decide the path that legalization should take; either by passage of a bill or by referendum by voters on the 2020 ballot
Maryland lawmakers intend to look at several of the other states that have already legalized recreational cannabis. That gives them the opportunity to learn from their experiences and mistakes and use all the relevant information they gather as it applies to Maryland.
The impetus with moving forward on recreational cannabis legalization is to help fund Maryland public schools. The Kirwan commission, named after former Maryland University System Chancellor William Kirwan, has recommended dynamic improvements to the school system with an annual budget of $3.8 million.
Due to the status of cannabis as a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, making it federally illegal, every state that examines legalization must deal with the federal prohibitions.
One of the major obstacles that must be overcome in the cannabis industry is lack of access to federal banks. In many states, dispensary sales are an all- cash business which is proving to be dangerous. There have been several robberies and even murders as a result of having so much cash on hand.
This concern was voiced by Republican Senator Serafini who questioned the lack of bank access for cannabis companies as problematic on a security level. Democratic Senator Feldman countered this potential problem by pointing out that there are already several banks in Maryland willing to accept money from cannabis companies.
The director of policy and government affairs for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, William Tilburg, addressed the work group. He was happy to report that the program is rapidly expanding in Maryland. There are currently 15 growers, 18 processors and 77 dispensaries. Reported 2018 medical cannabis sales totaled $109 million. Retail sales have increased in the past 18 months from $2.6 million a month to $19.5 million a month.
Democratic Delegate Mosby wants to make sure that there is diversity among the business owners who will be offered an opportunity to participate in the recreational cannabis market. Currently, there is only one Black grower in Maryland. Furthermore, Delegate Mosby recommended eliminating the cap on the number of potential license holders for recreational cannabis. He feels that the success of the medical cannabis program suggests that there will be a demand for recreational cannabis and will warrant an increase in the number of license holders.
Another consideration that lawmakers must address is the impact that recreational cannabis legalization will have on road safety. The driver advocacy group, AAA Mid-Atlantic, is very interested in the task force’s work and will be monitoring it closely. They are concerned that there is currently no reliable technology which accurately assesses if a driver is impaired.
Dem state Senator Bill Ferguson, co-chair of the task force, said that he thought the work group would finish its work by the end of this year, but he was not sure what the recommendations of the members would be. “I don’t think there’s a foregone conclusion here,” he added.
I will keep you updated on the progress of the task force as the information becomes available.
Baltimoresun.com, Maryland Task Force Begins Work on Potential Legalization of Marijuana, Luke Broadwater, June 25, 2019