The cannabis legalization push in Maryland, which in early 2021 briefly appeared to be picking up momentum, has come to an end.
Two adult use legalization bills were introduced this session: HB 32, introduced by Delegate Jazz Lewis, and SB 708, introduced by the vice chair of Maryland’s Senate Finance Committee, Brian Feldman.
What’s next? Lewis told Cannabis Wire that he is now “working on a plan B this legislative session to move forward on the regulatory infrastructure so that is one less barrier next year.”
And, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition are “working hard with bill sponsors on amendments” that they hope lawmakers will consider to “set the stage for equitable legalization next year,” Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst for MPP, told Cannabis Wire.
“We are disappointed in the inaction to legalize cannabis for adult-use in Maryland this year. This means another year of Marylanders being subjected to the harms of prohibition—including thousands of life-altering stops, searches, and arrests for cannabis,” Naugle said.
While the bills had differences, they shared a significant reality: Gov. Larry Hogan does not support cannabis legalization. Last year, Hogan even vetoed a bill that would have shielded past cannabis possession arrests from public view.
Each bill had one hearing. This month, the Senate Finance Committee discussed Feldman’s bill, during which Feldman emphasized similarities between his bill and Lewis’ bill. Feldman went further, saying that he was “working on a package of amendments” to get his bill “a little closer to Delegate Lewis’ bill,” but that he held off on submitting them because he “wanted to get a little feedback from this committee.”
The feedback included a dose of skepticism. Senator Joanne C. Benson, along with other lawmakers, pointed out that Feldman’s bill did less than Lewis’ bill when it comes to equity in the industry and community reinvestment.
“The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, if I may tell you, feels that we were left with crumbs on the table. That’s the feeling,” Benson said during the Senate Finance Committee hearing, referencing the state’s medical cannabis industry, which, she said, “had its start” with the Caucus.
“Now, we’re not going to go through that again with this bill here, because right now many of us are not feeling good about passing this bill. We’re just not feeling good about it because we felt that we got a little stung by the last bill,” Benson continued.
Lewis’ bill, as Cannabis Wire previously reported, was the first ever cannabis legalization bill to propose directing cannabis tax revenue to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the state.
In January, the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition held a virtual press conference to bring together supporters of HB 32, also known as the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, Inclusion, Restoration, and Rehabilitation Act of 2021. The bill’s supporters included the Working Families Party and Progressive Maryland, in addition to local and national cannabis advocacy organizations.