Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Rushern L. Baker III says he doesn’t support legalizing marijuana, a rare difference between him and his rivals in the crowded Democratic primary.
“I don’t at this time,” Baker, the Prince George’s County executive, said Tuesday night at a candidate forum sponsored by the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County. “I know that it’s a trend moving across the country.”
Baker said he does support decriminalizing marijuana, which generally means possession of small amounts is not subject to criminal prosecution, but possession of large amounts and sales remain illegal. In 2014, Maryland removed criminal penalties for possessing less than 10 grams. The state has also legalized marijuana for medical use.
“Too many of our children have gone to jail with a record” because of marijuana arrests, Baker said at the forum. “I think we need to do more to look at this issue and study it [more] than we have, before we get to full-blown recreational marijuana use.”
In a statement Wednesday clarifying Baker’s position, spokeswoman Madeleine Russak said he “does not oppose the legalization of marijuana, he just wants to make sure that it happens in a thoughtful way that leads toward equity and fairness within all communities.”
Before he would support legalization, she said, Baker would want the state to ensure a plan for expunging marijuana-related arrests, address zoning and location issues surrounding dispensaries, resolve any banking and access-to-capital issues under state control, review minority business participation in Maryland’s existing medical marijuana businesses, and require reliable DUI and impairment testing standards.
Most of Baker’s opponents in the June 26 Democratic primary support legalization, which has broad support across the state. Ben Jealous called for legalization in a keynote address last week at the National Cannabis Festival’s policy summit. Alec Ross, Krish Vignarajah, Jim Shea and state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery) also support legalization.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has called legalization “a rational next step after the full implementation of medical marijuana.” But at the forum, he stopped short of supporting it.
“This is an opportunity where we need to listen and keep an open mind,” he said. He noted that while legalization could reduce violence among dealers, “I’ve got two teenage sons, and I have to balance those questions with them.”
A spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who will face the Democratic nominee in November, has not responded to requests for his position.
An earlier version of this story had an incorrect date for the June 26 primary.