On April 1, the Maryland General Assembly voted to refer a constitutional amendment to voters in November that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older beginning in July 2023 and direct the state legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of marijuana.
To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a 60% vote is required in both chambers. The constitutional amendment was introduced as House Bill 1. On February 25, it passed the state House in a vote of 96-34. On April 1, the Senate passed the bill with amendments by a vote of 29-17. The House concurred with the amendments by a vote of 94-39. It does not need the governor’s signature to appear on the ballot.
On the same day, the legislature passed implementing legislation, House Bill 837, which would take effect if the amendment is passed by voters. HB 837 would legalize the personal use and possession of up to 1.5 ounces or 12 grams of concentrated cannabis for individuals 21 years of age or older. It would also legalize the possession of up to two cannabis plants. It would change the criminal penalties for persons found possessing cannabis under the age of 21. The bill would also automatically expunge convictions for conduct that would be made legal under the law, and individuals serving time for such offenses would be allowed to file for resentencing. The bill would require specific studies on the use of cannabis, the medical cannabis industry, and the adult-use cannabis industry. It would also establish the Cannabis Business Assistance Fund and the Cannabis Public Health Fund.
If approved by voters, Maryland would join 18 states and Washington, D.C., in legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The amendment is the first related to marijuana to qualify for the 2022 ballot. In 2020, ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana were approved by voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. The New Jersey measure was the first legislatively referred measure to legalize recreational marijuana. The measure in South Dakota was ruled unconstitutional on February 8, 2021. The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court ruling.
Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “Marylanders have long awaited a new approach to cannabis policy and the passage of these bills is a promising step forward. We applaud the legislature for taking decisive action this session to finally end the era of cannabis prohibition, a policy that is both long overdue and supported by a majority of constituents. We look forward to working with Maryland legislators on this issue moving forward.”
State Senator J. B. Jennings (R), who voted against the amendment, said, “I just don’t think it should be in the constitution.”
Maryland voters will also be deciding on three other constitutional amendments in November that would make the following changes:
- Rename the Maryland Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Maryland and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to the Appellate Court of Maryland
- Increase the amount in controversy in civil proceedings in which the right to a jury trial may be limited by legislation from $15,000 to $25,000
- Require that state legislators reside and maintain a place of abode in the district in which they wish to represent for six months prior to the date of election
From 1996 through 2020, 33 of 36 statewide ballot measures were approved, and three were defeated.