Maryland activists have launched a statewide campaign to urge voters to pass a marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot.
The MDCAN 22 “Vote Yes On 4” campaign, which is being led by former NFL player Eugene Monroe, announced the new push on Thursday, promoting a new website and video ad with information about the reform proposal.
Maryland elections officials recently finalized the language of the cannabis referendum and issued a formal summary. The measure was placed on the ballot by an act of the legislature, which separately passed a complementary bill to set up regulations for an adult-use market if voters approve legalization.
Cannabis is on the ballot in Maryland—are you ready to help join the fight to make legal adult-use #cannabis a reality? Vote YES on question 4 this November and follow our efforts at https://t.co/sBTzvaUcFR. #Legalization pic.twitter.com/cwJhlCXoWI
— MDCAN 22 – Yes on 4! (@YesOnMD4) September 8, 2022
“Legalizing cannabis would stimulate Maryland’s economy and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, while allowing Maryland residents to benefit from vital investments in education, public health, and public safety funded by cannabis taxes,” Monroe said in a press release.
The new campaign ad talks about the economic benefits of enacting legalization, freeing up law enforcement resources and promoting equity through expungements and opportunities in the new industry.
“Passing Question 4 will put an end to the failed criminalization of cannabis, create a well-regulated legal marijuana market centered around equity, and open up new doors for local entrepreneurs and small business owners,” Monroe, an activist who formerly played for the Baltimore Ravens, said. “I hope every Marylander will vote yes on Question 4 this November.”
Vote Yes On 4 received a $50,000 contribution from the multi-state cannabis company Trulieve in July, according to a financial disclosure statement filed at the end of last month. Trulieve separately contributed $5 million in seed funding for a 2024 marijuana legalization campaign in Florida.
Here’s the final text of the Maryland cannabis measure, designated as Question 4, that will go before voters:
“Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the State of Maryland?”
If a majority of voters support the referendum—as polling signals they’re likely to do—that would trigger the implementation of the separate but related HB 837, which Gov. Larry Hogan (R) allowed to take effect without his signature. His action was not required for the ballot legislation.
Under the law that would be enacted if voters approve legalization at the ballot, the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be legal for adults. The legislation also would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults 21 and older would be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.
Past convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law would be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses would be eligible for resentencing. The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute could petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.
The legalization bill was amended throughout the legislative process. For example, language was attached to create a community reinvestment fund and allow state tax deductions for certain cannabis-related expenses that marijuana businesses are barred from claiming under current federal tax code.
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If voters pass the referendum question, the reform wouldn’t take effect immediately. Possession of small amounts of cannabis would become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, punishable by a $100 fine for up to 1.5 ounces, or $250 for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces. Legalization for up to 1.5 ounces wouldn’t kick in for another six months.
Advocates took issue with that protracted timeline. Having possession legalization take effect sooner was among several asks they made that were not incorporated into the legislation. For example, activists also wanted lawmakers to include a provision preventing police from using the odor of marijuana alone as the basis for a search.
Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who sponsored both the ballot question and implementation legislation, also served as the chair of the Maryland House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which met regularly to take initial steps to prepare to pass marijuana legislation.
The panel, formed by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D), discussed licensing and regulatory issues at its meetings, with members hearing expert testimony on the current marijuana policy landscape to help inform their approach in the future.
Clippinger said at one meeting that it was important for members to “prioritize equity in our efforts and ensure that we were recognizing and addressing the impact the war on cannabis has inflicted, particularly on brown and Black communities.”
Adult-use legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature in the 2021 session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last year on a legalization bill, which followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal.
Maryland legalized medical marijuana through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams with a civil fine of $100 to $500.
Meanwhile, the governor separately allowed a bill to create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury to take effect without his signature this year.
Maryland isn’t the only state where drug policy reform could appear on the ballot this November:
In North Dakota, voters will have the chance to decide on marijuana legalization at the ballot this November, the secretary of state’s office confirmed.
Legalization will also appear on the ballot in neighboring South Dakota.
Oklahoma officials recently certified that activists have collected enough valid signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative before voters. But the measure’s fate is currently being considered by the state Supreme Court.
Missouri’s secretary of state announced last month that activists had turned in enough signatures to put marijuana legalization on the state’s November ballot. That proposal is also being challenged in court, however.
Also, in Arkansas, a campaign successfully placed a cannabis legalization initiative on the ballot. That, too, is being litigated in court, leaving an open question as to whether votes will be accepted.
Nebraska lawmakers and advocates are considering new paths forward for marijuana reform—including pursuing recreational legalization on the 2024 ballot or convening a special legislative session to pass medical cannabis in the interim—after state officials announced that a medically focused reform campaign had come up short on signatures to put their measures before voters this year.
Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.
The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.
While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.
In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.
An effort to put adult-use legalization on the statewide ballot in Ohio fizzled out this year, but the campaign did secure a procedural legal win that will allow them to hit the ground running for a planned 2023 reform initiative.
Locally, Ohio voters in at least seven cities will get a chance to join many of their neighboring jurisdictions in enacting local marijuana decriminalization at the ballot this November.
Voters in five Texas cities will also vote on local cannabis decriminalization measures this year.
Advocates have also worked to place local decriminalization ordinances on the ballot in West Virginia.
Wisconsin voters in at least half a dozen cities and counties will also be asked on November’s ballot whether they support legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. Those Wisconsin advisory questions will be non-binding, however, and are intended to take the temperature of voters and send a message to lawmakers about where their constituents stand.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.