ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 20, 2022) – Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill that would create a regulatory structure for legal recreational marijuana if voters opt to legalize cannabis for adult use, despite ongoing federal marijuana prohibition.

On April 1, the Maryland legislature gave final approval to a bill (HB1) sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D) that places a state constitutional amendment on the ballot during the November general election to legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults 21 and over.  The amendment would also empower the legislature to “provide for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”

The Senate passed a second bill filed by Clippinger, House Bill 837 (HB837) to effectuate the amendment. This legislation would create the legislative framework for legalized marijuana contingent on the passage of the amendment. The proposed law would legalize the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis. It would also repeal criminal penalties for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults could grow up to two marijuana plants for personal use. HB837 includes provisions to automatically expunge past convictions.

The full House passed HB1 by an 89-41 vote. The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 30-15. With Gov. Hogan’s signature, it will go into effect if voters approve the constitutional amendment in November.

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.

Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2003 despite ongoing federal prohibition. The legalization of marijuana for personal use in Maryland would take the next step and remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. 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.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Colorado, Washington state, 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 in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021 New YorkNew MexicoVirginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.

With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational 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.

The move to legalize recreational marijuana in Maryland highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.

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