By Keegan Williams

The 2022 Election Season was major for cannabis, as voters in five states took to the polls to decide whether or not to approve adult-use legislation. While Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota all voted against their cannabis reform proposals in November, Missouri and Maryland pressed forward, becoming the two newest states in the country to jump on the recreational cannabis bandwagon.

 After legalizing medical cannabis back in 2014, Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved Question 4, with 67.2% voting in favor of enacting adult-use cannabis legislation.

Question 4 known as the Marijuana Legalization Amendment, was on the ballot as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on November 8, 2022. Legislatively referred means the proposed constitutional amendment has been passed by a state’s legislature and appears on the statewide ballot for voter ratification.The ballot measure was approved.

A “yes” vote on Question 4 was a vote to support legalizing marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older beginning in July 2023. A yes vote directed the Maryland State Legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of marijuana.

The new law allows adults over 21 to possess and consume up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of cannabis concentrates, or a total amount of cannabis products that does not exceed 750 mg THC, known as the “personal use amount.”

The legislation also establishes a process for expunging all cases in which possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis is the only charge, alongside additional expungement provisions. Effective January 1, 2023, Question 4 also increased the amount of cannabis a person may possess subject to a civil fine rather than criminal penalty, from 10 grams to 2.5 ounces.

The new law requires data collection on health and safety issues, including cannabis use and impaired driving, and it establishes a new Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council which will study cannabis and make recommendations regarding regulations to the General Assembly.

Finally, the law creates three new funds to address cannabis health effects; increase industry participation among small, minority and women-owned businesses; and support communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs, respectively. 

In early February, Maryland House and Senate lawmakers unveiled bills that would tax and regulate cannabis. Lawmakers cross-filed House Bill 0556 and Senate Bill 0516, proposing a 30% cannabis tax to go toward the community investment fund for at least the next 10 years. It also calls for 1.5% of revenue to go toward localities and another 1.5% each for the Cannabis Public Health Fund and Cannabis Business Assistance Fund.

The Marijuana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission would also be renamed the Maryland Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission, responsible for regulating the program and additional hosting an Office of Social Equity, meant to promote industry participation and provide assistance to people who have been disproportionately impacted by criminalization.

If existing medical cannabis dispensaries pay a fee, they can convert into dual licensees when legalization takes effect on July 1, 2023. Regulators would also be required to begin approving additional cannabis business licenses by July 1, 2024.

Cannabis will not be fully legal in Maryland until July 1, but possession of up to 1.5 ounces is no longer a crime. Rather, it’s a civil violation carrying a $100 fine, while amounts up to 2.5 ounces carry a $250 fine. Marylanders with a cannabis-related conviction on their criminal record will have it automatically expunged by July 1, 2024, though they are able to go onto the Maryland Courts website and apply for expungement to start the process sooner.