The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland House speaker supports referendum on legalizing marijuana

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) said she has concerns about legalizing marijuana but thinks the matter should go before Maryland voters. (Brian Witte/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) said Friday that voters should be able to decide next year whether to make recreational marijuana legal in the state — and she is forming a work group to study how the program should be implemented if the measure passes.

“While I have personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” Jones said in a statement. “The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to State law now.”

Maryland, which legalized medical cannabis in 2013 but where recreational marijuana remains illegal, became an outlier in the Washington region after Virginia lawmakers passed legislation this year legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana as of July 1. In 2014, voters in the District approved a referendum to allow residents to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

A majority of Marylanders support legalizing marijuana, according to a Goucher College poll released in March that found that 57 percent of residents, across political parties, support legalizing cannabis.

Legislation to legalize has been discussed for years in Maryland but had gained little traction.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who co-chaired a legislative work group studying the issue in 2019, said in a statement that the Senate “continues to be ready to move a fair, just and equitable program forward, and we intend to do so during the 2022 session.”

Archaeologists find more graves at lost Williamsburg African American cemetery

The work group’s tasks will include determining the regulatory, licensing and oversight structure of the production, sale and possession of legalized cannabis, including the licensing application process, number of licenses, and equity in ownership of marijuana facilities.

Lawmakers also will address removing from public view previous convictions for cannabis, examine changing criminal laws related to cannabis, and consider releasing from custody those convicted solely of marijuana-related crimes and dropping pending marijuana charges.

“Cannabis use has had a disparate impact on people of color for too long with no real impact on public safety,” Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), who will chair the work group, said in a statement. “This Work group will establish the legal frameworks [necessary] to fully implement legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us. The Speaker has been clear that we will do this with an eye toward equity and consideration to Black and brown neighborhoods and businesses historically impacted by cannabis use.”

A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the legalization of marijuana. In a radio interview in 2019, Hogan said he didn’t think the state was “ready to take that step,” given the problems with the state’s rollout of medical marijuana.

It’s here: Virginians prepare for legalized marijuana on Thursday

What to know about marijuana legalization in Virginia