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Cannabis in Maryland is legal for medical use and illegal for recreational use, but the possession of 10 grams (3⁄8 oz) or less is decriminalized. In 2012, a state law was enacted to establish a state-regulated medical marijuana 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 decriminalizes 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."
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 an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants and would impose a $30-per-ounce 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.
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. 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 cannot prove medical necessity at trial face a maximum penalty of $100. Defendants in possession of an ounce 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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- "About Us". mmcc.maryland.gov. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
- The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests (June 2013), American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, p. 15.
- The War on Marijuana in Black and White, p. 123, table A3 & p. 155.
- The War on Marijuana in Black and White, p. 155.
- Erin Cox (April 14, 2014). "O'Malley signs 'Jake's Law,' marijuana decriminalization". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved November 7, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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- Md. Lawmakers Override Veto Of Marijuana Paraphernalia Bill, Associated Press (January 21, 2016).
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- Pamela Wood, Maryland lawmakers renew push to legalize and tax marijuana, Baltimore Sun (January 30, 2017).
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- Aaron Gregg & Fenit Nirappil, The first players in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry have political ties, Washington Post (August 15, 2016).
- Fenit Nirappil, Losing Maryland medical marijuana grower applicant sues the state, Washington Post (September 19, 2016).
- Brian Witte, Maryland, after delays, begins the sale of medical marijuana, Associated Press (December 2, 2017).
- Meredith Cohn & Andrea K. McDaniels, Few doctors sign on to recommend medical marijuana in Maryland, Baltimore Sun (November 12, 2016).
- Fenit Nirappil, Rachel Siegel and Aaron Gregg, Medical marijuana has arrived in Maryland, and sales have begun, Washington Post (December 2, 2017).
- Rachel Siegel & Fenit Nirappil, Marylanders are days away from being able to legally buy medical marijuana, Washington Post (November 28, 2017).
- Erin Cox, Amid talk of legalization, Maryland’s medical cannabis industry expands, Washington Post (September 8, 2019).
- MD Criminal Law Code Annotated 5-601(c)
- "Maryland Court Rules Marijuana Odor Not Enough To Search A Person". NPR.org. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
- Pacheco v. State, 214 A.3d 505, 465 Md. 311 (2019).
- Official website of the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission