Democrat Gov. Wes Moore signed legislation today implementing a voter-approved referendum legalizing the production, sale, and use of cannabis.
The measure (Senate Bill 516) permits existing medical cannabis dispensaries to apply (for a fee) for dual licensure to sell to the adult-use market beginning this July. (Regulators would need to start approving additional marijuana business licenses by July 1, 2024.)
The law allows for as many as 300 total retailers to operate in the state. New dispensaries will not be permitted to be located within 500 feet of a school, childcare facility, playground, recreational center, library or public park. Licensed retailers must be separated from one another by at least 1,000 feet. A new independent agency, the Maryland Cannabis Administration, will be responsible for overseeing the regulated market.
It imposes a sales tax on adult-use cannabis products of 9 percent, similar to the rate charged for alcohol. Products sold to registered medical patients are not subject to taxes. Localities are not permitted to impose additional taxes, nor may local governments prohibit existing medical dispensaries from serving the adult use market.
“The criminalization of marijuana harmed low-income communities and communities of color in a profound way,” Gov. Moore said. “We want to make sure that the legalization of marijuana lifts those communities now in a profound way.”
The new law also increases the amount of cannabis that qualified patients may possess (up to 120 grams of cannabis flower and/or up to 36 grams of THC in infused products) and it also permits them to grow up to four plants at home. (Patients previously had not been permitted to engage in home cultivation.)
Unlike recently enacted legalization laws in several other states, it does not include provisions explicitly protecting employees from being sanctioned by their employers for their off-the-job cannabis use. NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano criticized this omission, stating: “Those who consume alcohol legally and responsibly while away from their jobs do not suffer sanctions from their employers unless their work performance is adversely impacted. Those who legally consume cannabis should be held to a similar standard. Maryland lawmakers should amend workplace cannabis testing regulations in accordance with its rapidly changing cultural and state-legal status.”
In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum (Question 4) directing state lawmakers to establish rules and regulations governing the production and sale of cannabis to adults. By approving Question 4, voters also triggered the enactment of separate, complementary legislation (HB 837), which permits to adults to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and/or 12 grams of cannabis concentrates with no penalty beginning on July 1st. The law also permits adults to home-cultivate up to two plants in a private residence. It also facilitates the automatic review and expungement of criminal records for those with for low-level marijuana convictions on their records.
Two additional marijuana reform bills still await action from the Governor. House Bill 232 provides expanded legal protections for parents who consume cannabis. House Bill 1071 reduces the penalty for consuming cannabis in public to a $50 civil fine. It also prohibits police from initiating either a stop or a search of a person or their vehicle based solely on the odor of marijuana.