Maryland: Cannabis Advocates Say A Referendum On Legalization Would Let Lawmakers Off The Hook

Local cannabis justice groups are voicing their opposition to a 2022 referendum on pot legalization in Maryland after House Speaker Adrienne Jones announced her support for the measure last month.

“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 on July 16.

But at least three advocacy organizations—Maryland Marijuana Justice (MDMJ), District of Columbia Marijuana Justice (DCMJ), and Maryland’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)—have now come out against putting legalization on the ballot for the 2022 gubernatorial race.

MDMJ Co-founder Kris Furnish told The Outlaw Report on Wednesday that her organization doesn’t support a referendum because it would let legislators off the hook, allowing them to avoid voting on the issue themselves.

“We really think this is a great way for the legislature to hide in the shadows,” Furnish said.

If polls are any indication, voters would be all but certain to approve legalization in 2022. Goucher College has since 2015 consistently found that a majority of Marylanders support legalizing cannabis, along with a majority of the state’s Republicans as of this year.

“The legislature would choose to wash its hands of its responsibilities rather than be responsible,” Furnish said. “They should just do their job.”

Furnish said that a ballot measure in November, as opposed to the General Assembly passing a bill during the legislative session, would extend the timeline for legalization and “put industry over equity, and it will continue to allow Marylanders to be jailed for non-violent possession of cannabis.”

It’s still unclear whether a finished bill would accompany a referendum in 2022, though Jones said she has drawn up a list of delegates to study how to launch a retail cannabis market.

Furnish said MDMJ won’t back a ballot measure unless it comes with legislation to release people currently incarcerated on non-violent cannabis charges, expunge their criminal records, and to legalize home cultivation for all Maryland residents.

“We can’t keep criminalizing people for this plant and pick and choose who we want to criminalize, and how we want to do it,” Furnish said.

She also said MDMJ opposes a cap on licenses for microgrowers—cannabis farms smaller than 5,000 square—feet that would sell their product to processors and dispensaries.

“We cannot allow these big corporate moneymakers with multi-state licenses to vertically integrate and just take over the game,” Furnish said.

Maryland’s medical cannabis market has become increasingly dominated by national cannabis companies with operations in many states, known as multi-state operators (MSO). The companies often purchase licenses from independently owned businesses.

“We have to let people who were wrongfully targeted, people who were risking their freedom before legalization—we have to give them preferential treatment,” Furnish said. “And there just can’t be a cap on small licenses. That’s just unacceptable.”

Luke Jones, Director of Legislative Affairs for Maryland’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), has also voiced concerns about a 2022 referendum. Earlier this month, he told The Outlaw Report that his organization wouldn’t support a ballot measure without accompanying legislation to legalize home cultivation.

Last week, Adam Eidiner, the founder of DCMJ, a group that successfully fought to put cannabis legalization on the ballot in D.C. in 2013, echoed Jones’ concerns on Twitter.

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