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Cannabis in Maryland is legal for medical use and illegal for recreational use, but possession of 10 grams (3⁄8 oz) or less is decriminalized. In 2013, a state law was enacted to establish a state-regulated medical cannabis program. The program, known as the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) became operational on December 1, 2017.
Prohibition and decriminalization
In 2010, Maryland had the fifth-highest overall arrest rate for marijuana possession in the United States, with 409 arrests per 100,000 residents. (The national rate was 256 per 100,000 people). In that year, marijuana arrests made up 49.9% of all drug possession arrests in the state. In Maryland, Black people were 2.9 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In April 2014, Governor Martin O'Malley signed a law that decriminalized the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana. The measure made such possession a civil infraction, similar to a traffic ticket. The measure took effect on October 1, 2014. Under the law, people over age 21 "who are accused of having less than 10 grams will have to pay a fine and attend a drug education program". The fine not exceeding $100 for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders, and $500 for third or subsequent offenders.
In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly, controlled by Democrats, passed SB 517, which decriminalized the possession of marijuana paraphernalia (such as rolling papers, pipes and bongs) and decriminalized the smoking of marijuana in public. The measure makes both civil offenses punishable by a fine of up to $500. Republican Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the bill, but the Assembly overrode the veto.
In the 2010s, there were several efforts to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but none have been successful. However, support for legalization has increased in the state; Washington Post-University of Maryland polls found that 54% of Marylanders supported legalization in 2014, and 61% supported legalization in 2016.
In 2017, legalization was introduced in the state legislature (sponsored by Democratic Delegate Curt Anderson, Democratic Senator Richard Madaleno, and others) to legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana in the state. The bills would have allowed persons 21 or older to lawfully possess up to one ounce (28 g) of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants and would impose a $30-per-ounce ($1.06/g) excise tax for cultivators and a 9 percent sales tax for buyers (the same sales tax as for alcohol sales in Maryland). The legislation also contained a provision that would expunge prior convictions for possession of marijuana in those amounts or less. The legislation did not pass.
In 2019, a task force of the General Assembly, the Marijuana Legalization Workgroup, began to consider ways to possibly legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana in Maryland.
In 2021, Delegate Jazz Lewis, a Democrat from Prince George's County, introduced H.B. 32, which would legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana and expunge prior cannabis related convictions. Another marijuana legalization bill that has been brought up in 2021, is SB 708, which has been introduced by State Senator Brian Feldman, a Democrat from Montgomery County. Feldman and Lewis are working to "harmonize" the two bills.
On July 16, 2021, Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones announced that a referendum should decide whether to legalize recreational use of cannabis and that The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters. She also formed a bipartisan work group to work out the myriad details that such legalization would entail, from changes to criminal laws to the taxing structure.
The November 2022 ballot cannabis initiative and legalization implementation
In February 2022, Maryland lawmakers filed a Cannabis Legalization Bill in anticipation of ballot referendum passing, where it would legalize recreational use of cannabis possession and use on or after July 1, 2023, if voters approve a ballot question in the November 2022 election to allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1+1⁄2 ounces (43 g) of marijuana and decriminalize possession of amounts greater than that up to 2+1⁄2 ounces (71 g). This bill would also establish a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund to support equity initiatives for minority- and women-owned businesses. That fund would go toward incubator and educational programs to promote participation in the industry by people most impacted by criminalization. The bill would also automatically expunge prior past criminal convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law.
In April 2022, the Governor of Maryland allowed a bill to become law - with no action of a signature or veto to legalize cannabis recreationally within Maryland. Medicinal cannabis is already legal in Maryland. However, another bill that passed the Maryland General Assembly in April 2022, puts the very same cannabis policy straight onto the ballot box for Maryland voters to implement in the November 2022 election as an initiative - and does not require a Governor's signature (a bypass mechanism).
On May 22, 2003, Governor Bob Ehrlich signed a bill into a law that took effect on October 1, 2003, that instituted a maximum fine of $100 for people using marijuana for pain relief. However the legislation did not protect users of medical marijuana from arrest and it did not establish a registry program.
In May 2013, Governor O'Malley signed legislation that established a medical marijuana program in Maryland. The legislation restricts cannabis distribution to academic medical centers, which will monitor patients. In April 2014, Governor O'Malley signed another legislation called House Bill 881, which took effect on June 1, 2014, and allowed for the creation of a medical marijuana infrastructure. By September 2016, Maryland state officials were considering more than 800 applications for prospective dispensaries; under the law, there is a cap of 94 dispensary licenses, two per state Senate district.
In 2016, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission awarded 15 preliminary licenses to grow medical marijuana (out of a pool of almost 150 applicants) and a further 15 licenses to process medical marijuana "into pills, oils and other medical products." The Commission received almost 150 grower applications and 124 processor applications. Seven companies received licenses to both grow and process. The selection process was controversial because—although the selection process was blinded and applications were ranked by outside evaluators—many successful applicants had political connections. One unsuccessful grower applicant who ranked higher than some successful applicants sued the state, alleging that the Commission's reshuffling was arbitrary.
Under Maryland's approach, physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists and nurse midwives may certify patients as eligible for medical marijuana. As of November 2016, just 172 of the state's practicing physicians (about 1% of the state's total number) registered to participate in Maryland's medical marijuana program. In addition, several large health systems in the state, citing the federal law against marijuana, said they would bar their doctors from recommending medical marijuana, including LifeBridge Health and MedStar Health.
On December 1, 2017, after five years of delay, Maryland's medical marijuana program became operational and sales began. At that time, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission had authorized 14 growers, 12 processors and nine dispensaries in the state; 550 health-care providers were registered to certify patients as eligible; and 8,500 patients were certified by the Commission to buy medical marijuana. Over the next two years, Maryland's medical marijuana sector expanded significantly; by September 2019, Maryland had 18 licensed growers, 82 licensed dispensaries, and 70,000 registered patients (slightly more than 1% of the state's total population).
By state statute, defendants who can prove medical necessity at trial face a maximum penalty of $100. Defendants in possession of one ounce (28 g) or less of marijuana are permitted to raise an affirmative defense to the possession charge if they can prove they suffer from a specific debilitating medical condition.
In Pacheco v. State (2019), the Maryland Court of Appeals determined that "the mere odor of marijuana coupled with possession of what is clearly less than ten grams of marijuana, absent other circumstances," is not sufficient probable cause for police to arrest and search a person within the state.
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- Official website of the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission