Many Signs Maryland Might Legalize Marijuana. After almost a century of censuring cannabis consumption, Maryland is finally making moves to legalize recreational marijuana — and this time, most Marylanders believe the movement will stick. Read on to learn about the history of Maryland’s marijuana legislation and why so many Marylanders are convinced that legal cannabis is coming their way.
The History of Maryland’s Marijuana Laws
Though Maryland lawmakers are dragging their feet when it comes to legalizing recreational cannabis consumption statewide, the truth is that Maryland has good reasons to thank cannabis for being a state at all. In the 17th century, when European colonists first moved to American shores in the hopes of building their own settlements, many in the middle colonies struggled to manage their land. Setting aside difficult relationships with indigenous groups, early colonists in Maryland and Virginia found it difficult to cultivate many of the crops that provided subsistence around Europe. As a result, many settlements fell to famine and disease, and the broader colonies were unable to collect the copious taxes they needed to build a government.
To make Maryland settlements more productive and profitable, the colony mandated that landowners dedicate a portion of their property to cannabis cultivation. At the time, Europeans did not consume cannabis for recreation; rather, hemp was used almost exclusively as a textile, comprising over 90 percent of the world’s clothing as well as the canvas for ship sails. As a result, Maryland landowners raising hemp would be all but guaranteed a market for their crop.
When Maryland became a sovereign state, it maintained its cannabis mandate — but as other cash crops became more valuable than hemp, this law passed into obsolescence. Finally, in the 20th century, Maryland instituted a cannabis ban like so many other states, and Marylanders without medical conditions have been prohibited from partaking in weed since.
However, Maryland has a worse reputation for cannabis-related crimes than its neighboring states. At the start of the 21st century, Maryland ranked in the top five states for arrest rate for marijuana possession, and Black Marylanders were roughly three times more likely to be arrested than whites. These statistics encouraged Maryland’s lawmakers to decriminalize adult possession of small amounts of weed. Today, an adult aged 21 and older found with less than 10 grams of cannabis or any cannabis paraphernalia must pay a fine of around $500 and attend a drug education program.
Lawmakers Have Already Filed a Legalization Bill
Since around 2012, several efforts have been made by lawmakers and activists alike to legalize recreational cannabis in Maryland, but most have failed to pass through the legislature with approval. However, thanks to shifting attitudes regarding cannabis and the noteworthy success of other states’ adult-use programs, Maryland lawmakers might finally approve legalization in 2021.
Already, a bill outlining cannabis legalization has been introduced in Maryland’s House of Representatives. The bill, which was pre-filed back in October 2020, underwent its first procedural reading January 13 amongst the state’s Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees. The bill, as it was filed, allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis or 15 grams of concentrate and cultivate up to six plants in a private, enclosed space. Consuming cannabis in public would remain illegal, but it would carry a relatively small fine of $50 or a requirement of five hours of community service.
Built into the bill are measures for social equity. The legislation would automatically expunge standalone cannabis offenses, and those incarcerated for certain cannabis-related offenses would be released. What’s more, tax revenues from legal cannabis sales would be directed to undoing the consequences of the War on Drugs, which unfairly ravaged Black communities and other communities of color.
Public Approval for Recreational Cannabis Continues to Increase
- Maryland dispensaries already sell medical marijuana to those with qualifying conditions, but the public support for recreational regulations increases every year. There are dozens of benefits to legalization, even for those who do not partake in cannabis consumption; the reduction in police responsibility to enforce outdated drug laws, the increased tax revenues to municipalities and the decrease in violent crime associated with the illegal drug trade are all advantages that everyone can appreciate.
However, Maryland lawmakers have not yet determined whether they will put the existing bill to a vote, and there is no telling how Governor Larry Hogan will respond to legalization efforts. Marylanders who want their state to offer legal cannabis options need to contact their state representatives and voice their support immediately.