Marylanders will be able to legally purchase cannabis starting Saturday after voters last November approved a ballot referendum by a more than 2-1 margin.
The vote was 67.2% (1,302,161 votes) for the constitutional amendment to 32.8% (635,572 votes) against it, according to official results from the Maryland State Board of Elections. Lawmakers then passed a regulatory framework for legal cannabis.
Here’s what you need to know:
How much cannabis can I possess, and where can I use it?
In Maryland, people who are 21 and older will be able to buy 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis or cannabis products that include up to 750 mg of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives users a high, from a licensed dispensary.
People will be allowed to grow up to two plants in their home. But individuals must get permission from the property owner if they’re renting.
The possession of more than 1.5 ounces to 2.5 ounces of cannabis is a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $250.
Meanwhile, possession with intent to distribute cannabis is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Law enforcement considers the circumstances of how it finds the cannabis, including if it’s discovered near a scale or packaged in individualized baggies.
“It’s very case specific, fact specific,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Neil, team captain of felony narcotics in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office. “And that’s the way it has been and that’s the way it continues to be.”
It’s against the law to smoke in public places, which include parks, streets and sidewalks, and bars and restaurants. That’s a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $50 for a first offense and $150 for a second or subsequent offense.
Smoking is also prohibited in vehicles — even if people are in the passenger seat.
Adults who are 21 and older can share with friends as long as the amount does not exceed personal use and no money is exchanged.
What are the rules for cannabis use and driving?
For the average police officer, conducting an investigation for driving under the influence of cannabis is similar to one for alcohol, said Sgt. Tom Morehouse, supervisor of the Drug Recognition Expert Program for the Baltimore County Police Department.
A lot of the indicators of impairment, he said, are the same. Bloodshot eyes. Trouble with speech. Poor coordination. Officers can direct people to perform the standard field sobriety tests, which will show whether there is impairment — regardless of whether it is because of alcohol or some other substance, Morehouse said.
Law enforcement can make an arrest if there are enough clues that indicate impairment, Morehouse said.
If a breath test shows no alcohol is present, Morehouse said, law enforcement will call in a drug recognition expert. That is an officer trained to recognize if people are under the influence of substances besides alcohol.
Morehouse said drug recognition experts will perform an evaluation and, if they determine there’s impairment, ask people to agree to a blood test.
The Baltimore County Police Department, he said, has 29 drug recognition experts and conducts about 110-120 evaluations per year. Officers have performed more than 50 in 2023, Morehouse said.
“Just like alcohol, if you’re going to use it, be responsible. Use a ride-share, a designated driver or a taxi. Because every agency in Maryland is preparing for it,” Morehouse said. “If we find you, we’re going to do our part to keep the roadways safe and arrest you for it.”
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he expects more people will take these cases to trial, noting there is not an established measure of impairment for cannabis similar to a blood alcohol content of 0.08%.
Shellenberger said he thinks body cameras will help the state in court.
“We will be able to play the video of the body cam, and it will be as if the judge was at the scene,” Shellenberger said. “Because they will see exactly what the person was doing — or wasn’t doing.”
In a statement, Elena Russo, a spokesperson for the Maryland State Police, said the agency is encouraging people to figure out a ride instead of driving if they plan to use cannabis.
Can I expunge a previous conviction for possession of cannabis?
Meaghan McDermott, chief attorney of community lawyering for Maryland Legal Aid, said the private, nonprofit law firm is partnering with several organizations under a grant to hold clinics throughout the state and train people ranging from community partners to practitioners about expungements.
“I think expungement is seen as kind of a simple area of law,” McDermott said. “But the statute itself is very confusing and convoluted. So the training is very important.”
McDermott said people with convictions for possession of cannabis can seek relief. That’s even if there is a charge in the case such as robbery that’s never eligible for expungement under current law.
The process, she said, involves filing a petition for expungement. Prosecutors can object if they believe people are not eligible, McDermott said.
People with convictions for possession with intent to distribute cannabis must wait three years before seeking expungement.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has until July 1, 2024, to remove all references to cases in which the only charge is possession of cannabis from the central repository for criminal record history information.
How are police and prosecutors preparing for the change?
Capt. Mark Fox, division commander of the Administrative Services Division in the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, said its Legal Affairs Unit put together an informational sheet for deputies that outlines the changes in the law.
Fox said supervisors went over that information during roll calls. Some employees, he said, participated in training in other parts of the state.
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said the department has been working with other partners on a media campaign to educate people about the changes in the law.
Jones said his officers will no longer respond to calls about the smell of cannabis coming from an apartment or condo.
Carroll County State’s Attorney Haven Shoemaker Jr. said his office is conducting training sessions about the new laws, which will include holding a presentation for police chiefs as well as the sheriff and barrack commander of the Maryland State Police.
Shoemaker wondered if officers need to buy digital scales to distinguish amounts. Prosecutors, he said, are trying to be as proactive as possible.
“We’re all in this boat together with these major changes to the law,” Shoemaker said. “We’re figuring it out, just like everybody else.”
Can police search people or vehicles solely based on the smell of cannabis?
Before the 90-day legislative session wrapped up, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that prevents police from searching people or vehicles solely based on the smell of cannabis. But it can be used as a factor to establish probable cause.
The Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Maryland Sheriffs’ Association opposed the measure. Gov. Wes Moore allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
Elizabeth Hilliard, acting director of government relations for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, said that change is important because it’s designed to prohibit — or at least reduce — pretextual traffic stops that disproportionately affect Black and brown Marylanders.
Hilliard noted that smell is subjective. Defense attorneys and judges, she said, cannot review body camera video and scrutinize a claim from law enforcement.
The law also states that any evidence obtained in violation of the provision is not admissible in court. That’s even if people gave consent for police to search their car.
“We are anticipating, and we are going to be prepared for, having to potentially litigate exactly what it means in various cases,” Hilliard said. “The exclusionary rule is often vigorously litigated.”
Jeremy Eldridge, a defense attorney who previously served as an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore, said he expects police will pursue other exceptions to the warrant requirement to search cars.
Eldridge said he anticipates police departments will change their general orders to conduct more inventory searches. Law enforcement, he said, will also use the suspicion of driving under the influence of cannabis as a basis to search vehicles.
Said Eldridge: “Law enforcement will search for a new way to jump this fence to be able to search cars.”