The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The case for legalizing marijuana in Maryland

Dave Myrowitz harvests cannabis on Oct. 1, 2019, by clipping the plants' top flowers at Maryland's first legal outdoor medical marijuana grow at Culta in Cambridge, Md. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
4 min

Eugene Monroe, the campaign chairman for the ballot question to legalize marijuana in Maryland, is a former Baltimore Raven who lives in Maryland.

I grew up in a home where I saw cannabis’s potential to improve lives — and in a neighborhood where its criminalization repeatedly ruined them. For years, my father used marijuana to alleviate the pain that resulted from his chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Down the street, where the government discriminately waged its war on drugs against Black and Brown communities, police arrested people who possessed small amounts of the same plant — tearing families apart and making it even more difficult for hard-working people to earn a decent living.

It doesn’t have to be this way anymore. In November, by supporting Maryland Question 4 and allowing adults to legally use cannabis, voters across the state can put an end to the era of failed marijuana prohibition and bring freedom and opportunity to our communities.

The legalization question puts racial equity front and center, giving deserving people hope their lives will get better. Its passage would end future incarceration for cannabis possession convictions and expunge the criminal records of people whose only charge is cannabis possession.

The economic benefits behind the question would also make a meaningful difference in many Marylanders’ lives. Eliminating the illicit marijuana market and building a well-regulated, safe and legal market for marijuana sales would create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs. It would also open doors for hundreds of new small-business owners and create opportunities for workers in other industries, including those in real estate, construction and manufacturing.

Legislators in Annapolis already passed bills that will take effect on the amendment’s passage to further address historical inequities. One provision would create a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund to support minority- and women-owned small businesses seeking to enter the legal cannabis market. Another establishes a community reinvestment fund to assist organizations serving communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.

Right now, we’re leaving valuable tax revenue on the table. Independent analysis suggests marijuana legalization would provide the state with over $135 million in tax revenue, which could help fund vital investments to strengthen the middle class, such as expanding access to high-quality education and health care. That figure doesn’t even include the savings from the more than $100 million Maryland spends each year enforcing marijuana possession laws.

Instead of wasting time and money on nonviolent marijuana citations and arrests, law enforcement should focus its limited resources on preventing the serious, violent crimes that actually put our communities in danger. Possessing small amounts of marijuana is not one of them.

Police chiefs in Maryland are facing hiring shortages and rising homicide rates. You might think enforcing the ban on marijuana possession would be low on their priority list. Yet Maryland is home to three of the 10 counties in the United States with the highest marijuana possession arrest rates — Worcester, Dorchester and Calvert. That doesn’t make any of us safer.

In fact, particularly in Black and Brown communities, cannabis prohibition and its unequal enforcement have resulted in decades of harm. I’ve seen firsthand how marijuana criminalization can upend lives and ruin families — and I’m certainly not the only one to notice this disturbing trend. While White individuals are more likely to use marijuana than individuals of any other race, Black people in Maryland are more than twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The war on drugs has actually been a war on people — especially people from communities of color. A criminal record can cast a long shadow and follow someone for the rest of their life, devastating entire families and communities. Because of marijuana prohibition, simply possessing a small amount of cannabis can make it far more difficult to obtain housing, education and employment. That will change in Maryland when we pass Question 4.

Some Marylanders might have concerns about whether cannabis use encourages abuse of other, more dangerous drugs. Yet the most comprehensive study on the subject recently found “there is little evidence to suggest that recreational marijuana laws … encourage the use of harder substances or violent criminal activity.” In fact, some researchers have found that legalizing marijuana coincides with “decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse.”

Rather than giving in to outdated scare tactics, Maryland residents know marijuana criminalization has been an abject failure. The discrimination resulting from marijuana prohibition will be a dark stain in our history books. Come November, we can turn the page and unlock a new era of freedom, equity and opportunity.