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Md. House, Senate remain disconnected on path to legal cannabis

Madeleine O'Neill//June 3, 2022

Md. House, Senate remain disconnected on path to legal cannabis

By Madeleine O'Neill

//June 3, 2022

Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, says a House work group will meet in mid-June to begin work on charting rules for the legalization of marijuana should a referendum be approved by voters. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

OCEAN CITY — A House work group on marijuana legalization will hold its first meeting since the legislative session on June 14, Judiciary Chairman Luke Clippinger said Friday at the Maryland State Bar Association’s legal summit.

That information came as news to Sen. Brian Feldman, a key champion of cannabis legalization in the Maryland Senate who was serving on the same panel as Clippinger at the MSBA conference.

Feldman said he had expected more collaboration between the two chambers, which have a host of issues to sift through in the coming year, both ahead of and after a November referendum on legalization that is expected to pass.

“I’m a little disappointed to hear that the House is now moving forward yet again with their own House work group,” Feldman said. “I would have thought it might make some sense to get together, House and Senate, during the interim.”

The back-and-forth at Friday’s panel signals continued disconnect between the House and Senate, which have struggled to coordinate their approach to marijuana legalization in recent years.

Continued communication issues among lawmakers could mean delays for Maryland’s nascent adult-use marijuana industry. Businesses will need guidelines from the legislature on licensing, taxation and in other key areas after the referendum.

Some of those guidelines will be put in place immediately if the referendum passes. Lawmakers did succeed in passing a bill this year that is contingent on the outcome of the referendum and will define the legal “personal use amount” of marijuana as 1.5 ounces, change criminal penalties for larger amounts and allow for the expungement of convictions for possession of cannabis.

But the legislature will still need to make decisions about important pieces of the industry, including how to equitably distribute licenses and benefit people and communities that have been harmed by marijuana criminalization — an area in which the state’s medical marijuana industry has struggled.

The referendum bill, which was put forward by House leadership, came after legalization proposals failed to pass in 2021 amid disagreement between the House and Senate sponsors.

Clippinger said after Friday’s panel that the House has “steadily moved the ball forward” on legalization.

The House will have conversations with the Senate about legalization, he said, but the work group will ensure that delegates are educated on the topic and can look at how other states have succeeded and failed after legalizing recreational marijuana.

“As we deal with this really complicated issue, it’s important for members to get that detailed knowledge,” he said.

There will still be debate between the House and Senate on how to proceed with the legal marijuana industry, he said.

“You can’t have the inevitable disagreements between the House and Senate until you have people that are well-informed (on the issue),” he said.

After Friday’s panel, Feldman offered another take on the House legalization work group’s plan to begin meeting later this month.

“There’s a long time between June and January,” he said. “I’m glad there’s a formal process now, as opposed to after Nov. 8. It’s a net positive.”


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