Maryland voters cast their ballots Tuesday in favor of all five constitutional amendments legislators placed on the 2022 general election ballot.
In perhaps the most contentious decision before them, Maryland joined at least 19 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing the recreational use and possession of cannabis.
The law, known as Question 4, also includes expungement provisions for past marijuana crimes, requires a study of cannabis use in the state, and establishes a fund to help seed women and minority-owned recreational cannabis businesses.
Olivia Naugle, a senior policy analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project who led cannabis legalization efforts in Maryland, called the amendment’s passing a “huge victory for criminal justice reform and racial justice in Maryland.”
“It will save thousands of Marylanders from arrests and further criminalization for cannabis possession, and it will begin to repair the decades of harm cannabis prohibition has caused, disproportionately in communities of color, by expunging records and reinvesting back into those communities,” Naugle said in a statement.
But the changes will not be felt immediately. Legal recreational cannabis consumption doesn’t start until next July for those 21 and older, and currently there’s no legal marketplace. This means state legislators will be busy in next year’s legislative session deciding who can grow and sell a recreational product and how the state will regulate and tax it.
Election results for Question 4
Wendy Bronfein, co-founder of a medical cannabis business, said voters have “greenlit our state legislature to define what a formal adult-use program looks like.” The chief brand officer and public policy director of Maryland-based Curio Wellness said the state can piggyback off of medical cannabis industry regulations and doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” However, she urged legislators to expedite the process.
“If the stores aren’t open, that’s when you have a massive influx from illicit” sales, she said.
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said legislators are mindful of the fast-approaching July 1 date and “are focused on making good decisions about this new industry that are grounded in inclusion.”
“Equity is not just about who gets licenses to grow, process and sell, but about how we treat those who’ve been touched by the criminal justice system for marijuana offenses,” Jones said in a statement.
In the state and nationally, research shows Black people have been arrested in connection to the alleged possession of the drug in disproportionate numbers compared to white people — an issue the bill is intended to address.
Among the workload for the next legislative session, lawmakers will have to determine what law enforcement can and can’t do should they smell cannabis, said the bill’s sponsor, Baltimore City Del. Luke Clippinger. The spirit of the law is grounded in undoing the harms caused to communities of color by marijuana prohibition, he said.
“The legislature is trying to strike a balance,” Clippinger said, between public safety and legalizing marijuana. “We don’t believe that people should be going to jail for possession of cannabis.”
Over the last two decades, the state has slowly relegated marijuana possession from a criminal to a civil offense. Because people have been convicted of something the constitutional amendment will now allow, the law will also provide pathways to expungement, resentencing and release for those with past simple marijuana possession charges.
But not everyone voted in favor of Question 4. The biggest issues on Jim Hopper’s mind as he cast his ballot at Severna Park High School Tuesday were the economy and cannabis legalization, which he opposes.
“We have to be careful,” said the 51-year-old, who works as a program coordinator for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “I see a lot of substance issues. It’s already a struggle and it’s just going to increase accessibility. Especially coming out of COVID, we have cultural issues right now — there’s a general state of apathy and lethargy and I think cannabis is just going to add to that.”
Maryland was one of five states that had the decision before them this year.
Here are the other ballot measures Marylanders supported:
PASSED: Q1 Renaming the state’s appeals courts
Maryland’s two highest courts will get a name change.
The state’s lower appeals court, the Court of Special Appeals, will shed the name it’s had since 1966, and will now be called the Appellate Court of Maryland.
For the first time since the 17th century, Maryland will no longer have a court of law named the Court of Appeals, as the highest court in the state will now be called the Supreme Court of Maryland. The high court’s jurists will now be called justices, and the head judge will be called the chief justice.
The law mandates the courts’ frugality as they make the switch. Both have to use up all their old letterhead, and the jurists must use their old business cards before they break out the new stuff.
PASSED: Q2 Tightening residency requirements for state lawmakers
State senators and delegates are now required to have a primary home in the district they want to represent for at least six months before the election, beginning on Jan. 1, 2024.
The previous law required a candidate to have “resided in” the district.
The issue of whether candidates live in their districts is a perpetual one, but the impetus for this change dates back to 1998, when then-Sen. Clarence W. Blount was alleged to be living in Baltimore County, not the Baltimore City district he represented. The state’s highest court found that although Blount rarely slept at a city apartment, he “did not intend to abandon his Baltimore City domicile and establish a new domicile in Baltimore County.”
Blount was allowed to stay on the ballot, won reelection, retired in 2002 and died in 2003.
State Sen. Charles Sydnor sponsored this constitutional amendment on the grounds that the courts gave too much leeway to candidates, essentially allowing them to establish a residence in a district without really living there.
“Too often, we hear rumors about legislators living outside of the district that they represent,” Sydnor, a Baltimore County Democrat, wrote fellow lawmakers in written testimony in 2021. “We must amend the current constitutional language to require representatives and individuals seeking office to maintain a place of abode in the district they represent.”
PASSED: Q3 Adjusting rules for requesting a jury in civil trials
Question 3 raises the minimum amount of damages required for plaintiffs seeking a jury trial in a civil lawsuit from $15,000 to $25,000.
This threshold has been increased periodically over the years; the current level of $15,000 was set in 2010.
PASSED: Q5 Abolishing the Howard County Orphans’ Court
Howard County voters will no longer have to vote for Orphans’ Court judges every four years. Question 5 eliminates the court and shifts the court’s caseload to the Howard County Circuit Court.
Except for Howard, Harford and Montgomery counties, every other Maryland county and Baltimore City has a three-member judicial panel that oversees the management of the estates of the deceased, with or without a will. In jurisdictions without an orphans’ court, circuit court judges hear probate cases.
Pamela Wood and Sophie Kasakove contributed to this article.