The General Assembly will consider passing a number of cannabis-related bills in 2021, that would further reduce the prosecution of individuals for cannabis use in the workplace or the justice system, including outright legalization.
Despite the majority of Marylanders being in support of legal cannabis, it may be difficult for the legislature to establish an adult-use (recreational) cannabis program during a virtual session amid the ongoing pandemic. For that reason, lawmakers are likely to pass supplementary cannabis legislation this session that loosens existing restrictions until the General Assembly can meet in person to discuss outright legalization next year.
The following actions could be taken by the General Assembly this year if they decide to pass any of the cannabis legislation that is currently on the table.
Legalizing cannabis for adult use – Introduced by Delegate Jazz Lewis (D)
H.B. 32 would legalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis for any adult over the age of 21 and establish an adult-use (a.k.a. recreational) cannabis industry in Maryland. The legislation directs the majority of cannabis tax revenue to minority and low income communities disproportionately prosecuted during cannabis prohibition.
The bill also establishes a social equity fund that promotes and incentivizes participation in the adult-use cannabis industry by groups who were disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, particularly the Black community. The legislation would overturn convictions and release those imprisoned for possession of cannabis and prohibit revoking parole, probation or pretrial release for state-legal cannabis activity.
Lawmakers have expressed concern about the ability to birth a new industry during a virtual session and are looking for ways to reduce cannabis prosecution through other legislation until 2022. To learn more about H.B. 32 you can read more in-depth coverage from The Outlaw Report here.
Decriminalizing up to one ounce of cannabis – Introduced by Delegate David Moon (D) & Senators Jeff Waldstreicher (D) and Jill Carter (D)
H.B. 324 (cross-filed as S.B. 143) increases the minimum threshold that an individual may be charged for possession of cannabis from 10 grams to one ounce, or 26 grams. Lawmakers discussed using this legislation as a placeholder to reduce cannabis prosecution until the legislature can meet in person to fully legalize cannabis in 2022.
This legislation would decriminalize an ounce of cannabis and instead impose a $100 fine for an individual’s first offense and $250 for their second.
Currently, someone found with more than 10 grams of cannabis on their person may be charged with possession and if they are found with evidence that suggests distribution, like a scale or plastic baggies, they may be charged with possession with intent to distribute which carries a maximum fine of $15,000 and/or up to five years in prison. Hawaii is the only state in the country that has decriminalized cannabis at a lower threshold than Maryland.
To learn more about H.B. 324 you can read more in-depth coverage by The Outlaw Report here.
Allowing medical cannabis patients to possess and carry firearms – Introduced by Delegate Robin Grammer (R), Delegate Kevin Hornberger (D) and Senator Michael Hough (R)
H.B. 543 and H.B. 415 (cross-filed as S.B. 190) would legalize ownership for medical cannabis patients in Maryland, bypassing federal law by prohibiting state and local law enforcement from prohibiting gun ownership due to medical cannabis registration.
While federal law still prohibits individuals who are registered to buy medical cannabis from purchasing guns, this legislation would prevent state and local law enforcement from enforcing that law. In 2019 the Senate voted unanimously to legalize gun ownership for medical cannabis patients but the bill died in the House.
Prohibiting workplace discrimination for state-legal cannabis use – Introduced by Senator William Smith (D)
S.B. 504 prohibits employers from discriminating or taking action against an employee for medical cannabis use or certification, meaning an employee could not be fired for state-legal medical cannabis use identified through a workplace drug test.
This legislation exempts employers who would violate federal regulations or lose a contract with the federal government for permitting cannabis-positive drug tests. Federal employees or members of the defense industry, for example, could still be fired for testing positive for cannabis use on a drug test regardless of medical certification.
Eliminating workers compensation for medical cannabis-caused incidents – Introduced by Delegate Kriselda Valderrama (D) and Senator Brian J. Feldman (D)
H.B. 683, cross-filed as S.B. 461 would prohibit workers from claiming workers’ compensation or benefits in the event of an accident or injury at work caused solely by the use of cannabis by the employee and was not administered in accordance with the instructions of a physician or certifying provider, even if it was purchased legally for medical use.
The bill also adds medical cannabis to the list of services the employer or insurer must cover for employees who are claiming workers’ compensation, meaning any employee who has a compensable claim may be reimbursed for the cost of their medical cannabis.
Appointing A Member of the Hemp Industry to the Maryland Agricultural Commission – Introduced by Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo (D)
H.B. 232 would increase the number of Governor-appointed members of the Maryland Agricultural Commission from 29 to 30 by adding a member from the Hemp industry. Maryland law requires the governor to appoint members from a list of at least two nominees representing each part of the agricultural industry, which would include hemp if H.B. 232 were to pass.
The same bill passed unanimously in the house as H.B. 100 in 2020 but died in the Senate committee.