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Maryland House approves pair of bills aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana

Del. Gabriel Acevero, D-Montgomery, shown in 2018, voted in favor of the amendment but not for the second bill that would implement some portions of the legalization effort. He questioned the true racial; equity related to minority ownerships of licensed growing, processing and dispensing businesses. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates on Friday passed a two-bill package that could legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

The votes, which fell largely along party lines, was not unexpected.

The House voted 96-34 in a nearly party-line vote to approve an amendment to the Maryland Constitution that would legalize the drug for adult recreational use. The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, who is prioritizing the effort to put the issue before voters in November as part of her legislative agenda for the session.

The final vote exceeded the 85-vote threshold needed to pass an amendment to the Constitution and send it to the Senate.

Del. Seth Howard, R-Anne Arundel, joined Democrats in approving the bill.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of adult recreational use.

The House also passed a related bill sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, that would implement some portions of the legalization effort. The bill, approved in a mostly party-line vote, is contingent upon voter approval of the constitutional amendment.

Clippinger’s companion bill bars criminal charges for possession up to 1.5 ounces. Still, some civil possession charges would be imposed for slightly larger amounts. Those changes wouldn’t take effect until the summer of 2023, months after voters would have approved legalization.

The bill calls for the expungement of possession charges and resentencing of others still serving prison time. It also calls for studies on use, driving under the influence and prenatal effects. 

Clippinger’s bill also calls for disparity and other studies to determine the “barriers confronting black and brown communities” in entering the industry and “ensure maximum participation” in those communities. 

The proposal also allows for adult sharing of the drug and for home growing of up to two plants.

Two lawmakers — Del. Gabe Acevero, D-Montgomery County, and Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County — voted in favor of the amendment to the Constitution but not Clippinger’s companion bill.

Acevero said he supports legalization of the drug but was critical of Clippinger’s companion bill because it does not create true racial equity related to minority ownerships of licensed growing, processing and dispensing businesses.

Acevero said the industry is “dominated by people who do not look like the people languishing behind bars and do not live in our state. While I appreciated the effort of putting forth a bill that addresses cannabis reform, it is not enough for us to acknowledge the harm that is done to communities by the intentional war on drugs. It is not enough for us to address the criminal legal aspect of cannabis legalization for the communities that have been harmed. What is equally as important is that we repair the harm that was done to the communities that have been disproportionately impacted and unfortunately that bill does not do that.”

Del. Jay Jalisi, D-Baltimore County, was present on the floor for Friday’s votes but did not vote on either.

After the session, Jalisi told a reporter that the buttons used to vote failed. When asked if he planned to file a request to register a vote before the results were journalized, the delegate said: “I don’t know.”

Jalisi also declined to say how he intended to vote on both bills, telling a reporter “no comment” as he walked away.

Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s County, was also present on the floor but declined to vote on Clippinger’s companion bill.

House rules require all lawmakers who are present on the floor to vote on bills unless they are excused. The rule, however, is rarely enforced.

Both bills now head to the Senate.