The cannabis industry, education, and health care are among the issues the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland will focus on during the 2023 General Assembly legislative session.

During the group’s first press conference of the session Wednesday, Baltimore Sen. Jill P. Carter noted the importance of including the Black community when establishing the state’s recreational cannabis industry. The caucus wants to prioritize growing, possession, and dispensation licenses for those who have faced disproportionate harm from the past criminalization of cannabis.

The caucus also seeks to establish concrete reforms that will remedy past loss and prevent any future damage. Examples of this include removing cannabis-related fines and fees and eliminating cannabis odor as a reason for law enforcement stops and searches. Profits from these businesses, they urge, need to be directed back into the communities that have been most affected by the drug’s criminalization.

“We have a legal and the moral obligation to ensure that Black people across Maryland who have borne the brunt of the criminalization under prohibition are now put in a position where their damage is restored, and we create no more future harm,” Carter, a Democrat, said.

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Baltimore City Del. Stephanie Smith said making sure all students have access to a quality education and a need to support Black teachers and students are the overarching themes of the caucus’ educational priorities.

Recruiting and retaining more diverse teachers at all levels is a key goal, as is strengthening the Maryland community schools program — which provides other services, such as job assistance, to students and their families — and doubling funding for a program providing tax credits for students borrowing to pay for their education. The caucus also wants more input into a plan to spend billions more on state schools, teacher training and other education programs.

“As we are implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future … we think that implementation requires the oversight of the Black Caucus,” Smith, a Democrat said, “because one of the reasons why we established the Blueprint in the first place is that Black Marylanders were more likely to be attending underfunded schools.”

Access to health care is also a priority.

“This session, we plan to save lives with the bills that we put forward,” Prince George’s County Democratic Del. Karen Toles said.

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Goals include automatically enrolling those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in Medicaid and expanding the availability of preventive care and testing. One bill Toles mentioned would require insurance companies in the state to cover biomarker testing, which can provide personalized information for treating cancer. Another bill being crafted in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen Foundation would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for people who need additional mammography not covered by their insurance.

Baltimore Democratic Del. Robbyn Lewis spoke of a large-scale public health overhaul for Black Marylanders that will assess the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, examine racial disparities in maternal mortality, and pay special attention to behavioral health and addiction, among other things.

The caucus also supports elevating Black-owned businesses and taking steps to address racial wealth disparities, such as extending the Minority Business Enterprise Program. Another priority is earmarking $2,000,000 in the budget during fiscal years 2026 through 2031 to establish a tech diversity incubator.

Housing priorities include fighting bias in the property appraisal industry and tackling the nationwide shortage of property appraisers in Maryland by offering an alternative route to certification. Further, the caucus seeks to create a state-level housing voucher program and pass legislation that requires landlords to give 120 days notice when a tenant’s rent is increasing by 4% or more.

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Established in 1970, the group is the largest Legislative Black Caucus in the nation. Its 64 members make up more than one-third of the 188 total seats occupied by members of the Maryland General Assembly.

Callan Tansill-Suddath covered the Maryland General Assembly for The Baltimore Banner. She previously covered the beat for WYPR 88.1, and Capital News Service, and reported on Montgomery and Prince George's Counties for WAMU/DCist. A native of Silver Spring, Callan holds a Master of Journalism degree from the University of Maryland.

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