ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 15, 2020) – Last week, Maryland Gov. Lawrence Hogan vetoed a bill that would have effectively sealed the records of certain marijuana possession charges in the state. Enactment of this bill would have taken another step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect.
Del. David Moon (D) introduced House Bill 83 (HB83) in January. The legislation would prohibit the Maryland JudiciaryCase Search from referring in any way to the existence of a case in which marijuana possession was the only charge if it occurred prior to October 1, 2014. The proposed law would effectively seal those records.
The Senate passed HB83 by a 46-0 vote. The House approved the measure 115-16. On May 7, Hogan vetoed HB83.
In a veto letter, Hogan said he was vetoing the bill because the legislature failed to pass the Violent Firearms Offender Act, along with three other bills to address violent crime. The proposed law Hogan was pushing would have increased the mandatory sentences for illegal possession of a firearm and other gun crimes.
“While the Senate approved the package by a wide margin, the House failed to act upon it [the Violent Firearms Offenders Act of 2020],” Gov. Hogan wrote. “Therefore, … I have vetoed … House Bill 83.”
Because of Hogan’s political posturing, thousands of Marylanders will continue to struggle with the impacts of having marijuana possession charges on their records.
As introduced, HB83 would have automatically expunged marijuana possession convictions, but that provision was amended out in committee. Nevertheless, the enactment of this legislation would have, at least in effect, sealed people’s public records, taking away barriers to employment and housing.
The proposed law would not have only helped some people with prior marijuana arrests and convictions on their records get a new start; it will have further undermined federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws.
In the past, we’ve seen some opposition to marijuana legalization bills because the new laws generally leave those previously charged and convicted unprotected. Despite the governor’s veto, the passage of HB83 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
When Maryland legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized possession, the state removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
These new laws further undermine prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in Maryland.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Enactment of HB83 would have ignored federal prohibition and continue the process of nullifying it in practice Maryland.
Washington, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit this year.
With 33 states allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
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