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Workgroup won’t recommend legalizing recreational marijuana in 2020 session

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery. (File photo)

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, is co-chair of the joint Marijuana Legalization Workgroup. She said the group will not be recommending legislation to legalize recreational use in the 2020 session. (File photo)

ANNAPOLIS — A legislative workgroup studying the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana in Maryland said they won’t recommend the General Assembly pass such a bill in the coming session.

Lawmakers on the panel that has looked at the issue since the end of the 2019 session said too many questions remain to make the leap this year. Instead the panel is expected to finalize its recommendations by the end of the year including asking the legislature to take some intermediate steps and collect data on health, underage use and traffic issues.

“I think the unspoken word here is, I think the consensus is we’re not recommending legislation this session to legalize adult use,” said Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery County and co-chair of the joint Marijuana Legalization Workgroup. “We are still in investigative mode.”

Dumais said the lack of a recommendation “doesn’t preclude others” including workgroup members from putting in their own legalization bills when the legislature returns in January.

“Regardless, I don’t think as a workgroup we’re necessarily ready to move in that direction,” Dumais said.

Wednesday’s meeting represented the third time the full panel has met as a group. Members have spent the last several months working in four separate subgroups focusing in taxation and regulation, minority participation, criminal justice issues and public health.

“There were areas of clear consensus and areas of nonconsensus and areas where there was near consensus but it probably needs more data,” said Sen. William “Bill” Ferguson, D-Baltimore City and co-chair of the workgroup.

Areas of consensus included the potential for local sales taxes on marijuana should it become legal in the state as well as establishing a process in District and Circuit court systems for automatic expungement for certain marijuana-related crimes. Those convictions disproportionately affect minority communities even though those communities have the same rates of use as white communities.

Dumais also expressed an interest in establishing limits for possession and possession with intent to distribute offenses as well as setting graduated civil and criminal penalties for each.

Ferguson said the final report could help inform House and Senate Committees who will wrestle and debate legislation in the coming months.

“There will be legislation this session on lots of different related and unrelated issues so where I think the most helpful aspect of this is that it gives a guideline,” said Ferguson

But for each issue on which there was widespread agreement, others were unclear.

“It seems like every time we get information to answer one question it begets another three or four questions,” said Dumais.

Included in those are issues such as use by minors as well as traffic enforcement, driving under the influence and the effects on professional licensing.

The workgroup appeared to be leaning toward recommending the creation of a new advisory commission, possibly associated with the state’s medical cannabis commission. The panel would be tasked with monitoring changes in drug use patterns, collect reports on adverse health reactions related to marijuana and make recommendations on public health awareness campaigns.

The workgroup also signaled an interest in collecting data on marijuana-related crimes and traffic stops.

“Certainly some of the reporting that we want to begin,” said Dumais.

One issue for which there remains a lot of uncertainty relates to gun rights and licensing.

Under state law, it is illegal to purchase or possess a regulated firearm, rifle or shotgun if one is addicted to or a habitual user of controlled dangerous substance. Last year, the Maryland State Police denied two dozen applications because of self-reported medical cannabis use.

The Senate passed legislation that would have prohibited rejecting an application solely on the basis of being a registered medical cannabis patient. That bill died in the House.  A subgroup of the legalization workgroup failed to take up the issue during meetings this year.

“It was at the bottom of the list,” said Del. Robin Grammer, R-Baltimore County and a member of the workgroup. “It continues to sit at the bottom of the list and we didn’t even bring it up. It’s an issue now without even considering the legalization problem.”

The failure of the workgroup to discuss and come to an agreement on the issue means lawmakers next year will not have the report as a guide.

“The gun rights one is a tough one because we didn’t get to an answer so it doesn’t provide a lot of certainty,” said Ferguson.

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