Maryland voters are set to have the ultimate say on whether or not the state should legalize recreational cannabis use for adults.
Lawmakers there earlier this month passed “a pair of bills setting a November referendum on whether the state should legalize the possession, personal use, and home cultivation of small amounts of marijuana,” the website DCist reported.
The proposal before Maryland voters is one that a growing number of states have tackled over the last decade. It would allow adults aged 21 and older “to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, with anything between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces subject to a civil fine of $250 and anything above 2.5 ounces subject to a charge of possession with an intent to distribute,” according to DCist.
And it would establish a social justice framework for those previously convicted of pot-related offenses “to seek an expungement of their records and petition for immediate release if they are incarcerated,” the website said.
The bill would not, however, establish a regulatory system for retail sales of recreational pot.
The legislation cleared another major hurdle last week when Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, opted not to sign the bills.
That means that should voters approve the referendum in November, the new law will take effect without the governor’s signature.
Hogan has been notably cagey on the issue of cannabis legalization. As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, “Hogan has never taken a public position” on the matter of recreational pot, and he has not “said how he would vote on November’s referendum that would legalize cannabis.”
Per the Baltimore Sun, Hogan has “previously said he would prefer a referendum to legislators acting directly.”
While some lawmakers had misgivings with the final proposal that won approval in the legislature, advocacy groups celebrated the prospect of bringing legalization to Maryland.
“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,” said Olivia Naugle, senior policy analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, as quoted by DCist.
There is good reason for those same advocates to feel bullish on the referendum’s chances in November.
A poll released last month found that 62% of Maryland voters support legalizing recreational cannabis use, while only 34% were opposed to ending prohibition.
Notably, the findings from Goucher College that legalization polls far better in the solidly blue state than the Democrat currently residing in the White House, President Joe Biden, who carried Maryland in the 2020 election by more than 30 points over Donald Trump.
According to the poll, only 48% of Maryland voters said they approved of the job Biden is doing as president, with 47% saying they disapproved.
Those numbers may underscore the political benefit of legalization, particularly for an embattled Democratic party entering this year’s midterm elections.
The party took power in early 2021 amid a wave of hope among legalization advocates that federal prohibition could finally be coming to an end.
Those hopes were bolstered earlier this month, when Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a bill to deschedule cannabis on the federal level.
The legislation now moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where leaders have said they hope to produce their own version of a bill by the end of this month.
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The measure, if approved by Maryland voters in November, will not require Governor Larry Hogan’s signature.
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