A year from now, Maryland could be the 12th state to have legalized recreational marijuana.
The question of how and by what means is something that lawmakers in the state are currently exploring, as a working group of legislators met for the first time on June 25.
For Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D), he already has the answer: recreational marijuana should be legal, and the state should control its distribution and sale.
Elrich said that he worried that a limited number of lucrative contracts for legal marijuana production and sale would go to well-connect business people. He would prefer to see the state profit from legal recreational marijuana, rather than private businesses.
“These contracts go to very wealthy people who are very well positioned, and they’re going to make an awful lot of money on it,” Elrich said. “If we’re going to do legal [marijuana] and somebody’s got to make money, I’d rather see the state make the money.”
Elrich first told Maryland Matters of his support for the idea, saying it would be preferable to letting private businesses control and sell legal pot.
For the next legislative session, marijuana will be prioritized.
While there have been previous attempts to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, none of the bills have had the votes or enough support from leadership to see them through. The General Assembly created a bipartisan task force to study the issue and potentially craft a bill by the time the next session begins in January.
While Elrich floated the idea, saying he does not plan to have an active role in the process, some legislators have called it a bad idea.
House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais (D-15), one of the members of the task force, disagrees. According to Dumais, Elrich’s proposal could cause a problem as marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. When the state worked to legalize medical marijuana, it steered away from having the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, a state facility, grow medical cannabis.
“You got state employees in the position of committing a crime, and we decided not to do that,” she said.
For Elrich and many other politicians, the heart of the matter is finding a new revenue source.
With a rising need for public dollars for school construction and pre-kindergarten education, the state needs more revenue dollars. With already high taxes in the state, there is not enough political will to raise taxes further, legislators have said. This means the state needs to find other new sources of revenue.
Thus, recreational marijuana has become an ever more attractive option for previously hesitant politicians.
“There are lots of financial needs in our state and very few new revenue sources, and I think at the end of the day, that’s going to make this probably something that we will have to embrace sooner rather than later,” said Delegate David Moon (D-20), a member of the general assembly marijuana task force.
Moon predicts that recreational marijuana will pass in the next legislative session, but how that will happen is unclear.
While Moon has previously introduced bills in the House of Delegates to put the question up to a statewide referendum, they have failed to pass. Among the issues the working group is studying is whether legislators should attempt to legalize recreational marijuana through a bill or put the issue up to a referendum.
Currently, under Maryland law, possession of marijuana of fewer than 10 grams is a civil offense. In 2013, the state legalized medical marijuana. Also, some local leaders have acted on their own to limit the enforcement of the state’s already leanest marijuana laws. These include Baltimore State’s Attorney General Marilyn Mosby, who announced in January that her office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession crimes.
The task force will focus on four main issues and will likely break down into subcommittees to study them. Those areas of focus are: taxing and licensing, public health, criminal justice and minority participation.
So far, 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana.