Annapolis has been abuzz since the start of the 2023 Maryland General Assembly in anticipation of the state’s recreational cannabis bill, one of the headline items on this year’s agenda. Legislative leaders have said the bill will be introduced soon — possibly Friday.
While in wait, here’s a quick round up on how Maryland got here, where the state intends to go and what we know so far.
Wait, didn’t Maryland already legalize cannabis?
Yes! Over 67% of Marylanders in November voted in favor of legalizing small amounts of recreational cannabis. But there’s still so much more for lawmakers to hash out and not much time to do it in.
One critical detail is setting up a recreational cannabis marketplace before use and possession for those 21 and older becomes legal on July 1, 2023.
Lawmakers have said cannabis will be regulated similarly to alcohol or cigarettes, so if you consider all the rules, taxes and requirements that surround sales of those products in Maryland, that gives an idea of what choices lawmakers are weighing.
So, why do we need more cannabis laws?
Along with setting up a new product marketplace comes plenty of decisions that are tied to the law, including who’s eligible to sell it and how the product will be taxed.
There’s also criminal justice implications. One bill examines whether cannabis odor will still give law enforcement probable cause to engage a citizen. Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore City Democrat, proposed the bill.
Another bill refines the guidance on expunging past convictions after a gubernatorial pardon.
Senate President Bill Ferguson told reporters earlier this week that lawmakers would work on many details of how to handle a newly-legal drug that can still cause problems if misused.
”The best way we can land is by treating it similar to alcohol,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “That it is a legal substance, but it’s not legal everywhere at all times.”
How did we get here?
Legalizing marijuana has been in the works in Maryland for nearly two decades. The state took a big step in 2014 and legalized medical cannabis, however it took a few years before sales started. Since then, a boom of medical cannabis businesses, growers, processors and dispensaries have sprouted across the state.
In December alone, the state reported cannabis dispensaries had nearly $41 million in revenues. There are just under 100 medical dispensaries in the state, according to online state data.
The General Assembly in 2022 passed legislation that put a question regarding whether to legalize recreational marijuana to the voters in November.
“I want to be very clear about where public sentiment is. We put it on the ballot so voters can decide,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in October.
The measure passed and changed Maryland’s constitution.
Where can I legally buy recreational cannabis?
Right now, nowhere.
But if all goes according to plan, there should be dispensaries open for business on July 1, 2023.
The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland got a preview Thursday during their weekly meeting from their colleague and one of the bill’s crafters, Del. C.T. Wilson, a Democrat from Charles County. It’s not too revealing, but here’s what he said.
Existing licensed medical cannabis companies would be able to pay a “hefty fee” to convert to a license that would allow them to sell cannabis to recreational customers, Wilson told his colleagues Thursday. But it’s not yet known how much or how soon companies would be able to convert.
There also will be dozens of new licenses created.
How will the General Assembly ensure license equity?
General Assembly members have committed to distributing licenses equitably. Lawmakers set aside $40 million in the state budget to assist minority businesses.
Wilson said the bill will propose 120 new dispensary licenses, 25 licenses for growers, 25 licenses for processors. Applicants for the recreational licenses must show that they either lived in a “disproportionately impacted area” for five of the last 10 years or attended five years of public schools in that area.
The state intended to do the same with its medical cannabis marketplace, but the blind application process resulted in a first round of licenses that were awarded almost entirely to white entrepreneurs.
Will I have to pay sales tax?
Yes. Recreational cannabis will be taxed. The state will redirect revenues to public health research on cannabis and to communities ravaged by the war on drugs.
What’s not yet known is how much. And here’s where it gets tricky: adding sales tax raises the retail price. Lawmakers must find a sweet spot so the illegal market does not undercut the new recreational cannabis economy.
Wilson addressed the challenge in Friday’s meeting when he said, “My goal is to make sure that we’re not only competitive with the black market but that we are cheaper than the black market.”
Banner reporter Pamela Wood contributed to the article