A top Maryland Democrat has voiced her support for putting cannabis legalization on the ballot, though the question wouldn’t go before voters until 2022.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones on Friday announced that she backs a referendum to legalize the drug and will form a workgroup to study needed changes to state laws.
“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 a statement.
“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,” she said.
The workgroup will develop a regulatory system, work to ensure equitable ownership in the cannabis industry and examine changes to the criminal justice system, such as expungements for previous marijuana convictions.
The announcement comes months after the General Assembly failed to pass a cannabis legalization bill during the 2021 legislative session in Annapolis.
A Senate version of the bill received some powerful backers, including Senate President Bill Ferguson and key committee chairs.
But the Senate and House sponsors could not agree on several parts of the legislation, which ultimately never passed out of committee in either chamber.
The proposed bills both included support for “social equity applicants” — people from communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana criminalization — so that those applicants could enter the legal market more easily.
The House sponsor, Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s County), also wanted to allow for unlimited “microcultivation,” which would allow for small business owners to grow their own supply of cannabis.
The Senate sponsor, Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County) preferred to keep cultivation licenses limited for several years. Lewis told one media outlet this difference was a major point of disagreement.
Maryland fell behind other states in the region this year when it came to legalization. New York legalized cannabis in late March and Virginia followed on July 1, though retail sales haven’t started in either state.
Cannabis legalization has broad support in Maryland. Polling in March found that two-thirds of Marylanders support legalizing recreational marijuana, including half of Republicans.
The Maryland workgroup to study legalization will include:
- Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County)
- Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany County)
- Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel & Prince George’s counties)
- Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County)
- Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s County), the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus
- Delegate C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County)
- Delegate David Moon (D-Montgomery County)
- Delegate Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s County)
- Delegate Robin Grammer (R-Baltimore County)
- Delegate Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel County)
Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @maddioneill.