Moon Hopes Maybe This Is The Year For Marijuana Legalization In Maryland

Photo Credit: Infinite Wellness

Takoma Park Del. David Moon is hoping his third effort to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales in Maryland will work.

The Democrat submitted a bill to the General Assembly on Wednesday that, if approved, would set up a statewide referendum so voters can decide whether to allow the nonmedical use and sale of cannabis in the state. He said he believes it’s the only recreational marijuana legalization bill submitted to the legislature this year.

It’s the third year in a row Moon has submitted the legislation. It was cross-filed in the Senate by Sen. Will Smith (D-Silver Spring). Moon said last year’s bill was never taken up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee and did not move forward.

“With a major topic like that, that’s not too uncommon,” Moon said of the bill’s fate. He noted the Democratic Party leadership that controls both houses of the state legislature often keep major bills from public votes until they’re ready to be approved.

Moon said he’s more hopeful the bill will receive support this year as more information continues to come out of states that have legalized the recreational sale and use of marijuana, such as Colorado and Washington

Like laws passed in those states, Moon’s bill would enable the state government to establish a taxing and regulatory structure to generate revenue and control the sale of cannabis. Colorado’s tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana has generated more than $500 million in tax revenue since the state legalized its sale in January 2014. The revenue is used to fund public education and substance abuse prevention programs in the state.

Moon said at least 21 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors and that he has talked to state legislators from both parties who are becoming more comfortable with allowing voters to decide the issue.

“The stigma is melting away quite rapidly,” Moon said. “At this point, we’re talking about a manner of when, not if.”

The state legalized the sale and use of medical marijuana more than four years ago, but shops only began opening this fall to sell cannabis products to doctor-approved patients. Moon said the long timeframe it took for the state to set up the medical marijuana program could impact whether legislators are prepared to make the next step to legalize its recreational sale and use.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, told WBAL Wednesday that the state is still ironing out the issues with the medical marijuana market and that Moon’s bill is “probably not coming out this year.”

Ending the prohibition on the sale and use of marijuana in Maryland appears to be popular among voters—A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted in September 2016 found 61 percent of Marylanders support ending the prohibition.

Moon said that while he believes the tax revenue that could be generated would be helpful, he thinks ending criminal penalties for consuming marijuana recreationally would be more beneficial.

“I think a lot of it for me has to do with the fact that the policy of prohibition has been a failure,” Moon said. “In Maryland, we do know we’ve had extreme racial disparity in marijuana enforcement.”

An October 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland found that although blacks make up about 30 percent of Maryland’s population, they accounted for 58 percent of the arrests for marijuana possession—despite findings that showed about equal amounts of whites and blacks reported using cannabis in the previous year.

The state changed its criminal penalties in 2014 to make possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense with a $100 fine—prior to that the penalty was up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine up to $500.

If Moon’s bill moves forward in Annapolis, it would likely face opposition from members of the state’s law enforcement community, which largely opposed legalizing medical marijuana because of concerns that cannabis grown for medical shops would be diverted to the black market and perhaps lead to more use among youth.

“I think a lot of the panic is false,” Moon said about potential opposition to the bill. “People are still going to consume marijuana, but they’re now doing it to the benefit of black market criminal enterprises. By establishing a tightly-regulated, controlled process we’ll be taking that funding away from criminal enterprises and generating tax revenue.”

Moon’s bill includes a few ground rules. For example, it would enable employers to prohibit an employee from using marijuana as part of a workplace policy and allow landlords to prohibit tenants from using cannabis inside their buildings.

It would also allow state residents to grow a small amount of marijuana inside their homes—a policy permitted in Washington, D.C., where city residents can possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and consume it on private property, but not sell it.