At a Aug. 6 meeting, the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) decided they would not support a ballot measure to legalize cannabis in 2022 if the accompanying legislation does not permit residents to grow it themselves at home.
The chapter meeting comes two weeks after the House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones announced her support for a ballot measure to legalize cannabis in 2022. Speaker Jones said the General Assembly will pass a comprehensive cannabis reform bill early next year that will go before the voters for passage next November.
Luke Jones, the director of Legislative Affairs at Maryland NORML, noted Speaker Jones’ announcement in support of a ballot measure but stressed public opinion has favored legalization in Maryland since 2015. Most recently, the annual Goucher College poll found 66% of Maryland residents support cannabis legalization.
“Our members don’t know what the General Assembly thinks they will learn from the voters that they don’t already know,” Jones said.
He theorized that Jones and other Democrat lawmakers believe cannabis legalization will drive a higher turnout in the 2022 gubernatorial election.
“[We] think the General Assembly has to be reminded who they work for, and they simply cannot let another legislative session go by without removing the threat of avoidable citizen-police encounters over marijuana,” Jones said.
Though last year Maryland NORML supported Del. Jazz Lewis’ cannabis legalization bill, H.B. 32, Jones said the chapter will focus intently on securing home grow rights for Maryland residents in whatever legalization bill accompanies a ballot measure in 2022.
“Cultivating cannabis at home for personal, non-commercial purposes poses no danger that could justify infringing on the liberty to grow your own garden,” he explained. “Our laws should not require citizens to purchase a product they are perfectly capable of producing for themselves.”
Last year when Del. Lewis and Sen. Brian Feldman submitted their cannabis legalization bills, NORML supported the House version over the Senate version due to key differences that had an impact on the accessibility of what would be the adult-use industry.
This year, however, NORML intends to prioritize securing home grow rights as opposed to focusing on a more comprehensive agenda because Jones explained, home grow “cascades out to all other sorts of protections.”
“Citizens are already growing their own cannabis at home, so the law must change to reflect what people are actually doing in the real world,” Jones explained.
He also stressed that allowing home growing is an important way to reduce police interactions and banning it, increases police interactions: “Banning home cultivation would leave police in charge of investigating the lives of cannabis consumers, putting citizens into countless unnecessary police encounters annually,” he said.
If cannabis legalization is put on the 2022 ballot, it is almost guaranteed to pass due to the already documented support of the public. However, should voters legalize a recreational cannabis industry in Maryland, what remains in question is exactly what that industry would look like.
This question includes the fate of home grow legalization, as Jones outlined, but also whether there will be a cap on micro-grower licenses distributed for the adult-use industry. Micro-grower licenses are designated for cannabis farms smaller than 5,000 square-feet, or about the size of a basketball court, while also permitting these licensees to sell their product to Maryland dispensaries.
During the 2021 legislative session, Jones said that the decision whether to cap the number of micro-grower licenses contributed to lawmakers inability to agree on a cannabis legalization bill. While maintaining an emphasis on home grow, he said NORML will continue to support unlimited micro-grower licenses and legislative caps on the larger cannabis producers.
“We don’t want massive size industrial size producers flooding the market and making it difficult for small, craft growers to sustain themselves,” Jones said. “I think that’s what most cannabis consumers want to see, rather than a few industrial size producers flooding the market.”
As far as the overall probability cannabis will be legalized in Maryland in 2022, Jones said he is confident a ballot measure would pass if the question is put before the voters.
However, he clarified, “if the political system were responsive to the needs and priorities of citizens, marijuana would have been decriminalized a long time ago.”