ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 4, 2023) – Yesterday, Maryland Governor Wes Moore signed bills into law creating a regulatory structure for commercial marijuana cultivation and sales despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Brian Feldman and Sen. Antonia Hays sponsored Senate Bill 516 (SB516), and Del. C.T. Wilson and Del. Vanessa Atterbeary sponsored House Bill 556 (HB556). The legislation creates 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/SB516, the newly created Maryland Cannabis Administration will regulate commercial sales and cultivation of cannabis. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries will be converted into dual licensees subject to payment of a fee. Regulators will start approving additional marijuana business licenses by July 1, 2024. The new law imposes licensing caps for 300 dispensaries, 100 processors, and 75 growers. The law also creates a program for smaller microbusinesses with a limit of 10 dispensaries, 100 processors, and 100 growers.
The new law limits the sale of delta-8 hemp products to licensed marijuana businesses.
The new law increases the number of plants medical marijuana patients can grow for personal use from two to four. It also repeals taxes on medical marijuana products.
The House passed the final version of SB516 by a 102-35 vote and the Senate approved the measure 33-13. The House passed the final version of HB556 by a 104-35 vote and the Senate approved it by a vote of 30-12. With Gov. Moore’s signature, the law went into immediate effect.
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. Missouri and Maryland legalized marijuana in November 2022. With Delaware legalizing in 2023, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 22 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.”
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