Maryland senators began formal consideration of two bills to legalize marijuana on Thursday, including one that would put the reform on November’s ballot as a referendum.
The Senate Finance Committee hearing comes less than a week after the state’s House of Delegates passed its own legalization package that would refer the question to state voters. The House proposals have also been referred to the Senate panel, though they weren’t on the committee’s agenda for Thursday’s hearing along with the chamber’s own legalization bills and a handful of separate medical cannabis reforms.
Supporters from both chambers are optimistic Maryland’s legislature will move forward on some sort of legalization plan this session, though it remains to be seen what form the final proposal will take. So far at least five separate adult-use cannabis bills have been introduced, leaving lawmakers to choose between competing provisions to merge into passable legislation.
“We have several goals we’re trying to achieve here,” said the panel’s vice chair, Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D), the sponsor of one of the two Senate legalization bills. “We want to divert cannabis sales out of the illicit, unregulated market, that we have right now. We want to regulate this product and we want to tax it. We want to invest millions back—I think this is hugely important—millions and millions back into the communities most most adversely impacted by a prior enforcing policies.”
“I don’t look at it as these two bills being in conflict,” Feldman added. He said the other bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jill Carter (D), has been helpful and raised ideas that might be incorporated into his own plan. He said he was optimistic the competing proposals could be merged.
Carter, whose bill prioritizes repairing the damage done by the war on drugs, said “it’s time for Maryland to prioritize ending the mass incarceration of black people, and begin to mend the harm created by cannabis prohibition.”
The Senate Finance Committee did not hold votes on the proposals at Thursday’s meeting, instead spending the afternoon discussing a range of cannabis-related issues and taking testimony from stakeholders.
Aside from the legalization measures, other bills considered by the panel would make changes to the state’s existing medical marijuana program, for instance increasing the number of business licenses available, allowing licensees to operate at up to four physical locations and adjusting ownership rules for medical marijuana companies. Another would specify that hemp products in the state could not contain more than 0.3 percent delta-8 THC, on …….