ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 13, 2023) – On Friday, the Maryland House passed a bill to create a regulatory structure for commercial marijuana cultivation and sales despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Delegates C.T. Wilson (D) and Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D) introduced House Bill 556 (HB556) on Feb. 3. The legislation would set up a tax and regulatory system for the marijuana industry in Maryland.
In November 2022, Maryland voters passed Question 4, legalizing the use of cannabis by an individual who is 21 or older. The amendment also authorizes the Maryland General Assembly to “provide for the use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”
Legalization goes into effect on July 1. Under the system created by HB556, the Marijuana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission would be renamed the Maryland Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission and would be responsible for regulating the program. If they’ve paid the set fee, existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be converted into dual licensees when legalization takes effect. Regulators would be required to start approving additional marijuana business licenses by July 1, 2024.
On March 10, the House passed HB556 by a 103-32 vote.
Under the ballot measure, adults 21 and over can legally purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis. It also repeals criminal penalties for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults can grow up to two marijuana plants for personal use. The law includes provisions to automatically expunge past convictions.
All of this is still completely illegal under federal law.
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 York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 21 legalizing for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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.”
HB556 will now move to the Senate for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not yet been referred to a Senate committee. Once it receives a committee assignment, it will need a public hearing and pass by a majority vote before it can advance in the legislative process.