Last week, the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition offered up its “consensus policy goals” for the 2020 legislative session, according to Luke Jones of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Maryland (NORML), one of more than two dozen groups that make up the coalition.
Those bills are House Bill 550, which would increase the decriminalization threshold in Maryland from 10 grams to one ounce; House Bill 83 (Senate Bill 699), which would move courts to “automatically expunge” all records related to cannabis possession charges; House Bill 331 (Senate Bill 605) which would establish the standards for providing medicinal cannabis to people in public school with a legitimate medicinal need; and House Bill 73, which would do away with the current provision preventing someone who has a medicinal cannabis prescription from also having a license to own a gun.
“Our number one policy goal for the coalition is to increase the decriminalization threshold from its current level of 10 grams and to raise it to one ounce,” Jones said.
Under decriminalization in Maryland, nearly 20,000 people are arrested for possession charges, even as some medicinal cannabis patients are legally allowed to purchase up to four ounces. The bill—which does not currently have an analogous Senate Bill—is sponsored by Delegate Nick Mosby of Baltimore. Jones added that imminent cannabis legalization for adult use will expunge these sorts of charges eventually anyway, so reducing the amount of arrests by increasing the threshold is important: “18,000 people per year arrest for possession—this represents charges that we are only going to have to expunge later anyway.”
The next policy goal for the year is the “automatic expungement” bill, sponsored by Delegate David Moon which would begin to remove the problems that a possession charge causes for people, especially black people who are disproportionately arrested for cannabis (in Baltimore around 96% of the people arrested for possession are black).
“Our drug arrests amount to life sentences for individuals and they burden the individual for the rest of their life,” Jones said, adding that racial disparity in arrests shows that “the application of these laws are so racist—and everyone knows it.”
Currently, expungement is a complex process that someone with a charge must do on their own but HB 73 would change that. Jones stressed that while expungement is “never automatic,” and that someone, somewhere in government must do the act of locating all records pertaining to a charge to expunge them, this bill would make it so start of this process begins without any effort by the person with the charge: “Institutional racism does not just stand up and walk away on its own. Affirmative action is required and we have to take action and our public administrators, our clerk—the bureaucracy—have to physically go through the actions to remove these records,” Jones said.
HB 331 or “Connor’s Courage” is named after Connor Sheffield, a teen with the autoimmune disease, Gastro-Intestinal Dysmotility that prevents him from properly digesting food who takes medicinal cannabis daily. Sheffield is one of around 200 juveniles with a medicinal cannabis prescription. This bill would make it so Sheffield and others like him can use medicinal cannabis on school grounds. Currently, that is against the law. Both Washington, D.C., and Virginia have already passed legislation similar to HB 331/SB 699.
“The bill would direct the state board of education and the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission to promulgate standards for the proper provisions for providing medical cannabis during school hours and during school events,” Jones said. “The primary concern has been whether or not the schools would lose access to federal financial support because they would have the [federally illegal] substance in school. The MMCC would jointly promulgate a policy that will give direction to school administrators.”
Currently, Sheffield must leave school grounds to take his medicine: “You can take opioids, or you know, painkillers in the nurse’s office. But I can’t take my cannabis which would help me get through the day,” Sheffield told Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ.
Like “Connor’s Courage,” HB 73 is more narrow in who it assists than the increased decriminalization threshold or automatic expungement, but is no less significant, Jones explained. This bill makes it so that Marylanders can both have a medicinal cannabis prescription and a gun license. Currently, one excludes the other. For people—especially veterans and former law enforcement—who work or want to work in security where they need a gun license, they must make a choice between medicine or work or they must break the law.
“This is pure discrimination against people who have legitimate medical needs,” Jones said. “When either remove the medicinal marijuana option for people who are gun owners or compel people to follow medical advice and not obtaining licensing.”
These four bills were a significant part of Monday, February 3’s Maryland Cannabis Policy Conference, an all-day event digging deep into cannabis policy reform. Those who presented at the Maryland Cannabis Policy Conference included Jones, Del. Mosby, Adam Eidinger of Maryland Marijuana Justice (MDMJ), Del. Moon and Del. Kathleen Dumais (two members of the Maryland Marijuana Legalization Workgroup), and many more. Former police officer and state trooper and drug reform advocate Neill Franklin of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) delivered the keynote.
The day after the conference was Cannabis Lobby Day, where members of the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition scheduled meetings with legislators to discuss and clarify issues surrounding reform. Jones praised the coalition, especially MDMJ: “We’re principally responsible for lobby day but it would be unfair…not to include Maryland Marijuana Justice who played a significant role in executing lobby day this year—in particular in scheduling meetings.”
The sense at the conference and on lobby day, Jones explained, was especially encouraging: “All of the participants have the same sense. There’s almost no resistance, almost no opposition really to changing how we approach and deal with the presence of marijuana in society.”
While Maryland’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup did not recommend cannabis legalization for adult use for the 2020 session—primarily citing concerns about executing legalization, especially as it pertains to issues of racial equity—Jones anticipates a serious move next year for legalization.
“Most anticipate a legalization bill in 2021,” Jones said. “There is real concern that timeline will be delayed in an effort with concerns associated with the Medical Marijuana Program, so we’re not one hundred percent sure it will happen in the 2021 session but that is our goal.”
Photo of Neill Franklin speaking at the Maryland Cannabis Policy Conference last week via Maryland Marijuana Justice Twitter account.