All posts by Kate Zawidzki

Press Release: Maryland Legislature to Consider Regulating and Taxing Cannabis Similarly to Alcohol

Senate and House bill sponsors will roll out the legislation at a news conference TODAY at1 p.m. in the House Office Building (Room 180)

* Bill details and statements below from Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Sen. William C. Smith Jr., Del. David Moon, and Del. Mary Washington *

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — State lawmakers are rolling out legislation Monday that would regulate and tax cannabis similarly to alcohol in Maryland. Senate and House bill sponsors will discuss the details of the proposal at a news conference today at 1 p.m. ET in the Lowe House of Delegates Office Building (Room 180).

The proposal consists of two bills — a regulation bill and a tax bill — that will each be filed in the Senate and the House. The regulation bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City), would make possession and home cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis legal for adults 21 years of age and older. It would remain illegal to consume cannabis in public or drive under the influence. Prior convictions for adults 21 and older possessing or growing amounts of cannabis made lawful by the bill would be expunged.

The bill would also create a structure for licensing and regulating a limited number of cannabis retail stores, product manufacturers, testing facilities, cultivation facilities, and craft cultivators (that would grow smaller amounts of cannabis to sell only to cultivation facilities and product manufacturers). The Comptroller of Maryland would be responsible for issuing licenses and creating rules, and the Department of Agriculture would be responsible for licensing and regulating the cultivation of industrial hemp. Cities and towns would have the authority to limit the location and number of cannabis establishments within their jurisdictions, as well as ban certain types of businesses.

The tax bill, sponsored by Madaleno in the Senate and Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) in the House, would create a structure for taxing cannabis and allocating the revenue. It would initially enact an excise tax of $30 per ounce, which would generally be paid by cultivators, and a 9% sales tax on retail cannabis sales, which is the same as the sales tax rate on alcohol. Cannabis tax revenue would be used to cover the cost of administering the program, and then the remaining revenue would be allocated as follows: 50% for the community schools program; 25% for substance abuse treatment and prevention; 15% for workforce development programs; and 10% for combating impaired driving through public education and additional law enforcement training.

The legislation addresses concerns that have been raised about the licensing process for medical cannabis businesses. Specifically, it provides opportunities for small businesses, ensures the licensing process is subject to the Minority Business Enterprise Program, and requires outreach to diverse communities to ensure they are aware of new business opportunities. It also contains strong provisions aimed at protecting public health and safety, such as mandatory product testing and labeling; restrictions on advertising and marketing; and rules limiting edible products to a single serving of THC and requiring opaque, child-resistant packaging. Neither of the bills would affect the rights of patients under Maryland’s existing medical cannabis program, and taxes would only be applied to nonmedical cannabis.

Sixty-four percent of likely Maryland voters support making cannabis legal for adults, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted in September 2016.

Statement from Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., vice-chair of the Senate Budget and Tax Committee and sponsor of the regulation and tax bills:
“This legislation will effectively end the failed policy of cannabis prohibition in Maryland and replace it with a much more sensible system. It establishes a thoughtful regulatory scheme and tax structure based on best practices and lessons learned from other states. Colorado and other states are raising millions of dollars in new revenue each month and creating thousands of good jobs. Maryland is not only missing out on the benefits, but enduring the many problems associated with prohibition.”

Statement from Sen. William C. Smith, primary co-sponsor of the regulation bill in the Senate:
“African Americans are far more likely to be the subject of marijuana enforcement than other Marylanders. Decriminalization reduces the number of Marylanders who are branded criminals, but it does not change the fact that marijuana laws are not enforced equally, and that people of color are disproportionately punished. Decriminalization also does nothing to stop the public safety issues that arise when a lucrative market is driven underground. It’s time to put marijuana sales behind the counter, and to let adults make their own decisions about using a substance that is safer than alcohol.”

Statement from Del. Mary Washington, sponsor of the tax bill in the House:
“Tax revenue from cannabis sales will generate much-needed funds for our state. Our tax bill will allocate half of the revenues from cannabis taxes to the community schools program, which benefits high-poverty schools across Maryland. It will also provide funding for treatment services that are needed to address our state’s battle with opioid addiction.”

Statement from Del. Moon, a co-sponsor of the regulation and tax bills:
“A strong and growing majority of Marylanders support ending cannabis prohibition. Rather than lagging behind our constituents, we need to get behind them and pass this legislation this year. Several states are now effectively regulating and taxing cannabis, and it is time for Maryland to join them.”

Press Release: Md. Lawmakers Override Veto of Marijuana Paraphernalia Decriminalization

Maryland Legislature Overrides Gov. Hogan’s Veto of Bill Intended to Fix State’s Marijuana Decriminalization Law; New Poll Shows Most State Voters Support Broader Reform

SB 517 removes criminal penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia, which was not included in the 2014 law that decriminalized simple marijuana possession 

53% of Maryland voters support regulating marijuana like alcohol, according to new Gonzales Research poll

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House and Senate voted 86-55 and 29-17 Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill intended to fix the state’s marijuana decriminalization law.

SB 517, introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), removes criminal penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia. The measure also imposes a new civil fine of up to $500 on public cannabis consumption. Gov. Hogan vetoed the bill in May 2015, after it was approved 32-13 in the Senate and 83-53 in the House of Delegates.

Maryland adopted a law in 2014 that was intended to decriminalize simple marijuana possession, but it did not include marijuana paraphernalia.

A new poll released Thursday shows that the majority of Maryland voters support broader cannabis policy reform. A statewide survey of 818 registered voters conducted by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies found 53% favor a change in Maryland law to allow marijuana to be regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. Only 43% were opposed. The poll was conducted Jan. 11-16 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%. The full results are available at www.mpp.org/Md2016poll.

Statement from the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which supported SB 517:

“An overwhelming majority of Maryland voters do not want citizens to be subjected to jail time and a lifelong criminal record simply for using marijuana. The continued criminalization of paraphernalia in practice meant that people with small amounts of cannabis were still being arrested throughout the state, sometimes for nothing but the plastic bag containing the cannabis. This unfortunate shortcoming will now be fixed, thanks to the courage and support of our lawmakers.

“Gov. Hogan’s excuse for opposing this bill was misinformed, and we commend the legislature for seeing through it. We hope they also recognize that the people of Maryland want to go beyond decriminalization. Until cannabis is legal and regulated for adults, Marylanders who choose to consume a substance that is safer than alcohol will still be unfairly targeted for fines, too often in a racially biased way. Regulating cannabis like alcohol is the best policy option.”

Press Release: Marijuana Decriminalization Fix Bill Passes General Assembly, Heads to Governor’s Desk

Marijuana Decriminalization Fix Bill Passes General Assembly, Heads to Governor’s Desk

* Statements below from legislators, coalition leaders *

ANNAPOLIS — Legislation to remove criminal penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia was approved by the General Assembly with bipartisan support in both chambers prior to the close of the legislative session on Monday. SB 517 was passed by a vote of 32-13 in the Senate last week and will now go to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan for approval. Sponsors argued that this legislation would help clarify current Maryland marijuana laws.

Senate Bill 517, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, would fix an omission in the decriminalization law passed last year by removing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia. It would also create a penalty for consuming marijuana in public — a civil fine of up to $500. Advocates defeated efforts to impose a criminal penalty for public marijuana consumption.

QUOTES FROM LEGISLATORS AND COALITION PARTNERS:

“I am excited about the passage of marijuana paraphernalia decriminalization. The support for further progress on this important issue was overwhelming and bipartisan. Over the past two years I am proud that we have moved for more sensible laws on this issue, stopping the mass criminalization of citizens, and focusing our attention on strategies that work like drug treatment,” said Del. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).

“Arresting people and saddling them with a criminal record for possessing marijuana paraphernalia is a tremendous waste of government resources,” said Del. Christian Miele (R-Baltimore County). “This bill will reduce unjust, destructive prosecutions and is a step forward for criminal justice reform.”

“The Libertarian Party of Maryland applauds the effort to decriminalize paraphernalia possession associated with small amounts of marijuana,” said Eric Blitz of the Libertarian Party of Maryland. “While we hope it is a small step forward towards the important goal of completely ending marijuana prohibition in Maryland, we know that public opinion in our state is overwhelmingly in support of removing criminal penalties.”

“The intent of legislators and their constituents was clear when marijuana was decriminalized last year: Marylanders should not be criminalized for low-level marijuana violations,” said Don Murphy, a former Republican delegate in Maryland who now serves as deputy director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Governor Hogan should sign this bill because closing the loophole will clarify the law and ensure police aren’t wasting time going after people for simple possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.

“In addition to closing the loophole, this would increase the deterrent for smoking marijuana in public, by imposing a fine of up to $500.”

Tom Coale: Cut Waste, Increase Revenue, Legalize Marijuana

Tom Coale
Center Maryland
February 18, 2015

Regardless of what cuts Governor Hogan and the legislature agree to this year, inertia and lack of political courage are likely to protect one obvious instance of waste: the remnants of Maryland’s war on weed.  This is despite the fact that marijuana is a drug that most Americans, and most Marylanders, believe should be legal.  While enforcing prohibition, black markets have flourished, lives have been ruined, and Maryland has fostered a “criminal class” of unemployable workers who often cycle back into the drug trade due to a lack of alternatives.  Our unenthusiastic war on drugs works as a dull tool to fight crime, in the most ambiguous understanding of the word, and costs Marylanders more than they may be willing to pay considering the minimal benefits received.

We are putting far too many people in jail, and spending far too much money, for criminal laws that do far too little for public safety.  We’re warehousing the poor and uneducated in the name of “criminal justice” when neither word applies to the underlying acts. Nearly half a million Americans are in prison across the country for drug crimes.  The United States spends approximately $15 billion a year on drug law enforcement with localities estimated to pay an additional $25 billion. If any one of us was asked why we imprison the average drug offender, our only answer would be the rather empty “because it’s against the law.”  But why is that so?

Read the full article here.

Press Release: Bill to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Introduced in Maryland Legislature

Bill to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Introduced in Maryland Legislature

Bill would make marijuana legal for adults, establish regulations for cultivation and sale

* Statements below from representatives of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland *

ANNAPOLIS — A bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly earlier today. HB 911, the Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015, sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City), would allow adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes.

The bill requires the Maryland Comptroller to establish rules and regulations for the operation of cultivation facilities, product manufacturers, retailers, and safety compliance labs. It also creates an oversight commission to monitor marijuana businesses and advise the comptroller on regulatory issues. The fiscal note for similar legislation proposed in 2014 estimated about $95.6 million per year in revenue from the $50/ounce excise taxes and about $39 million in new revenue from sales taxes. State expenditures would be exceeded through the estimated $1.995 to $3.985 million in yearly revenue in licensing fees from wholesalers, retailers, and safety compliance facilities.

A companion bill, SB 531, was introduced by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) earlier this week.

Marijuana businesses would not be permitted to operate within 1,000 feet of a school, and localities would be able to enforce additional regulations. Using marijuana in public and driving under the influence would remain illegal.

Currently in Maryland, possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

Statement from Sara Love, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland:

The Marijuana Control and Revenue Act is the next step on the road to saner drug policy in Maryland. For too long, tens of thousands of Marylanders, disproportionately black Marylanders, have faced life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance most voters believe should be legalized. Now, our state has the opportunity to move beyond the tragic costs of the counterproductive ‘war on drugs’ and toward increased revenue that can be used to support policies that strengthen communities.”

Statement from Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project:

“The focus in Maryland this year is clear: creating jobs, improving the economy, and balancing the budget. Legalizing marijuana, and taxing and regulating it like alcohol, would help accomplish all three. Colorado is experiencing one of the highest job creation rates in the country, and it’s no secret that the burgeoning marijuana industry has been a factor. This bill would generate significant new revenue without increasing existing taxes and limit government intrusion into Marylanders’ private lives. Marijuana is a substance objectively safer than alcohol, and it should be treated that way.”

Press release: Colorado, Seattle Leaders to Brief Maryland Legislators on Marijuana Legalization

Colorado, Seattle Leaders to Brief Maryland Legislators on Marijuana Legalization

Leaders from states implementing taxation and regulation of marijuana sales join Maryland legislators, advocates at a news briefing Friday at 9 a.m. ET

ANNAPOLIS — State and city officials from Colorado and Washington, who oversaw the implementation of historic marijuana legalization laws, will brief the press on developments over the last year at a news conference at 9 a.m. ET in the House Environment and Transportation Committee Hearing Room. They will be joined by Maryland legislators and members of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland who are advocating for legislation that would legally tax and regulate marijuana in the state.

Colorado State House Representative Jonathan Singer was one of only two state lawmakers to publicly endorse the initiative legalizing marijuana in that state. He sponsored successful legislation to create the first regulated recreational marijuana market including drug related child safety measures and placing a statewide proposition to tax marijuana on the ballot in 2013.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, upon taking office in 2010, halted all prosecutions for marijuana possession. Holmes was one of the earliest sponsors of Washington’s Initiative 502 to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. I-502 passed statewide by a margin of about 12 points.

A majority of Maryland voters (53%) support regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol, according to a survey conducted in September 2014 by Public Policy Polling. Only 38% said they were opposed. The full results are available at http://www.mpp.org/MDpoll.

WHAT: News conference at which key leaders from Colorado and Washington discuss developments on marijuana legalization in those states. In addition, Maryland legislators and members of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland will discuss legislation to further reform and tax and regulate marijuana similar to alcohol.
WHEN: Friday, January 30, 2015 at 9 a.m. ET
WHERE: House Environment and Transportation Committee Hearing Room, Room 251, 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, MD
WHO: Jonathan Singer, Colorado State House Representative
Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney
Delegate Curt Anderson
Neill Franklin, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Sara Love, American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland
Rachelle Yeung, Marijuana Policy Project
Darrell Carrington, Maryland Cannabis Industry Association