Katie Windle is a mother of two living in suburban Odenton, in Anne Arundel County. She does remote work for a university in the Pacific Northwest while her husband commutes to his federal law enforcement job in Washington, D.C. She’s a self-professed adherent of “wine culture” and has signs and coasters decorating her home that say things like: “I make wine disappear. What’s your superpower?” She considers herself a law-abiding citizen.
And after July 1, when recreational cannabis will become legal in Maryland, Windle says she’s interested in trying edibles.
“Obviously, I enjoy having a few drinks and hanging out with friends,” she said. “And I think when done responsibly [cannabis] is probably a bit better on your body.”
Windle is a member of a small but substantial segment of Maryland’s population who say they’re more likely to partake in recreational marijuana now that it’s becoming legal.
Three-quarters of Marylanders who responded to a Goucher College Poll survey in partnership with The Baltimore Banner said they “never” use cannabis for recreational or medical purposes in a typical month. About 15% of respondents said they use with various levels of frequency but less than daily, while the most avid in Maryland — those who said they use cannabis every day or almost as often — accounted for 7% of respondents.
But the poll also sheds light on just how much of Maryland is cannabis curious on the eve of legalization. Sixteen percent of respondents to the poll, which surveyed 800 Marylanders by landline and cellphone between April 18 and 23, said they will be more likely to use weed recreationally, like by smoking or consuming edibles, after Maryland’s long-awaited legalization.
A little over three-quarters of people told pollsters that legalization makes “no difference” to them, though it’s not clear what share of those respondents have been getting high illegally already, compared to those who just aren’t that interested.
The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Shad Ewart, a professor at Anne Arundel Community College who specializes in cannabis entrepreneurship, said he’s not surprised by findings of a nascent market for legalized weed in Maryland. Marijuana has been demonized for so long, fueling perceptions of the plant as a gateway to harder, dangerous drugs, he noted. But today people are hearing anecdotes about their grandparents turning to medical marijuana for its health benefits and other stories of benign experiences with the drug.
“All of a sudden, everyone’s like, ‘Maybe it’s not so bad,’” said Ewart.
Other recent findings have similarly suggested a market for cannabis in Maryland. Research by Cannabis Public Policy Consulting, presented to Maryland lawmakers in January, found that a third of adults in the state said they use cannabis at least monthly. The group predicted that the market for cannabis in Maryland could reach $1 billion within 20 months of legalization.
After years of prelude, Marylanders voted overwhelmingly last November to legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 and older. Members of the General Assembly this session worked to get regulations for the new market in place in time for this summer, when the new law takes effect July 1.
While curiosity in legal cannabis seems to be more pronounced among younger Marylanders, a notable segment of older residents shared an interest in getting into it after July 1: Twenty-eight percent of 18 to 34 year olds, 17% of 35 to 55 year olds, and 7% of people older than 55 said they are “more likely” to partake once legal.
That small segment of older residents includes 82-year-old Michael Collins, a resident of Baltimore County’s Essex community who served 24 years in the Maryland General Assembly, from 1978 to 2002.
Collins said it’s been probably 45 years since he last smoked a joint. He’s curious to dabble again, “just to have the happy feeling” and to see if it resembles what he remembers from decades ago.
A loyal Democrat, Collins said he was never much of a weed smoker — he estimated he’d only used marijuana around 10 times in his whole life — and he and his friends moved on from the drug as their lives changed when they were younger. He never liked the feeling of smoking much and is more inclined to do edibles today. He knows to start slow, eating a quarter of a cookie or gummy to start, and to wait awhile to experience the effects.
“I would be very careful,” he said. Whether many of his peers today share his curiosity isn’t clear to Collins, but he said he’s drawn to the idea of trying out edibles in the evening or while watching baseball with some friends.
Nonwhite respondents to The Banner’s poll expressed much more openness to cannabis than white respondents. Thirty-six percent of Black respondents said they use recreational or medical marijuana at least once a month, compared to 15% of white respondents and 32% of respondents of other races.
At the same time, 22% of Black respondents said they would be more likely to smoke or do edibles recreationally after legalization, compared to 13% of white people polled.
This potential for a bigger boost among Black Marylanders after legalization wasn’t surprising to Ewart, either. The professor pointed to decades of racist policing that has harmed, incarcerated and killed Black residents, likely leaving some of the state’s Black population more wary of illegal use.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, cannabis curiosity in Maryland is more pronounced among Democratic voters than Republican — with 21% of Democrats saying they are more likely to use recreational weed post-legalization compared to 9% of Republicans — but interest in the drug seems to span many demographics.
Cory Flere, a 29-year-old working in real estate in Howard County, said he prefers smoking cannabis to drinking alcohol, partly because of hangovers after drinking. Flere said he considers himself a political moderate with a lean towards the right. A former federal employee, he wasn’t able to use for close to six years, but now that he has a new line of work and cannabis is becoming legal, he said he expects he’ll partake a bit more.
For one, legalization will make the drug more accessible, Flere noted, and — maybe more significantly — safer to procure, since people won’t have to buy off the street or go through a friend with a medical card.
Windle, 43, moved to Maryland from Washington State, where recreational marijuana has been legal for more than a decade. She still has friends and family in the Pacific Northwest, where the drug is much more socially prevalent, and she said acceptance of the drug among people she knows there grew after legalization.
Talking openly about the benefits and potential health consequences of drugs and alcohol is important to Windle, and she suggested that marijuana may become more accepted for her kids’ generation than alcohol. But for now, Windle said many in Maryland probably aren’t as used to the idea of the drug as people in her home state.
“I feel like in Maryland, it’s gonna take time. It’s gonna be taboo still for a while,” she said.