ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers on Thursday introduced a measure to legalize recreational marijuana for adults that supporters say would put the state on a path for an equitable cannabis industry, if voters approve it in November.
The bill would create an implementation plan based on the findings of the House Cannabis Referendum Workgroup, House Speaker Adrienne Jones announced in a news release.
“While I feel strongly that the voters should decide this issue, it is the General Assembly that is charged with making sure we have a legally defensible, equity-driven plan in place should they choose legalization,” said Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.
The bill sets out to address criminal justice and public health issues, while also building a foundation for social equity in the industry, the speaker’s office said.
“Marylanders deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box on the question of legalization, but we cannot move forward without an implementation plan that addresses our immediate priorities,” said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. “With this legislation, we will be prepared with a comprehensive policy that creates the best, most equitable path to legal recreational cannabis, should voters say yes.”
The bill would allow Marylanders to possess up to 1.5 ounces of recreational cannabis without penalty. Possession of over 1.5 ounces of cannabis and up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis would be reduced to a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor.
The legislation also would automatically expunge the conviction of anyone previously found guilty of simple possession of marijuana if it was the only charge in the case. In addition, anyone currently held in a state prison or local jail for a cannabis conviction would be resentenced to end their term of incarceration.
The bill also calls for a study to collect data on patterns of use, incidents of impaired driving, and the impact cannabis use has on public health.
A disparity study would be conducted to create a more equitable regulatory system and identify barriers to entering the industry. The measure also would create a small, minority–owned, and women–owned Cannabis Business Assistance Fund to help people disproportionately affected by marijuana laws.
The Maryland Senate also has been working on an approach to legalizing marijuana.
Sen. Will Smith, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the chamber has been working for months to develop an implementation framework.
“We will not send this to a referendum without having a clear idea as to what things look like in terms of the actual regulatory framework,” Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat, said. “The regulatory framework has to be sussed out before we send it to the voters.”
Brian Witte reports for The Associated Press.