By Catherine Scott, Capital News Service & Associated Press
(AP) – A bill legalizing recreational use of cannabis in Maryland would be an important step toward addressing social equity and racial injustices, advocates said.
HB32 would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana, referred to as cannabis in the bill, for adults 21 and older and also allow for expungement and release for individuals previously arrested or incarcerated.
“This is the year we are talking about equity,” Del. Jazz Lewis, D-Prince George’s, sponsor of the bill, said at a Wednesday House Judiciary Committee hearing Capital News Service viewed. “And now is the time that we pass this bill.”
Lewis argued at the hearing that the bill would take the production of cannabis off of the streets to ensure safer products, while simultaneously creating jobs, helping small businesses, and bringing in potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue.
General fund and special fund revenues in Maryland would be expected to increase significantly in future fiscal years due to taxes, licensing fees, and civil penalty fines, according to a fiscal analysis. Exact dollar amounts, and the market for recreational cannabis, are unpredictable, according to the analysis.
Legalizing cannabis would increase the state’s expenditures significantly in the first year to establish regulatory and tax frameworks, as well as the cost of implementing the bill’s social equity provisions.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Commission alone would have to increase their spending by at least $1.9 million in fiscal year 2022, which includes the costs of hiring more staff, consulting services, and overall operating expenses.
If passed, people 21 and over would be able to, “possess, consume, grow, use, process, manufacture, purchase, or transport up to the personal use amount of cannabis.”
The “personal use amount” is defined in the bill as up to two ounces of cannabis, 15 grams of concentrated cannabis, cannabis products containing up to 1,500 milligrams of THC, or up to six cannabis plants.
Having more than the personal use amount could result in a civil offense for individuals with a maximum penalty of 16 hours of community service or a $250 fine.
Underage individuals could face a $100 fine or 6 hours of community service if caught with cannabis for a first offense.
The bill originated from an informal summer work group composed of legislators from the Black caucus who worked to create legislation to address racial injustices, according to Lewis.