January 8, 2019: A new poll by Maryland-based Gonzales Research found that 58 percent of the state supports the legalization of recreational cannabis, with 38 percent opposed. Support actually dipped slightly from a 2018 Goucher Poll in which 62 percent wanted to legalize cannabis, but it's still five points higher than an ACLU-MPP poll conducted in 2013. The legal sale of medical cannabis started in December 2017, and sales approached nearly $100 million in its first year. Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who defeated a legalization advocate in the November election, suggests he won't support full legalization until the state can assess the impact of legal medical sales.
What's Past Is Prologue
In the many years since Maryland passed a 2003 law that gave those caught with cannabis a medical necessity defense that could get them off the hook, the anti-prohibition movement has gathered steam. In 2013, Maryland passed a law that partly legalized medical marijuana (MMJ), allowing hospitals and research institutions to study and implement MMJ, but due to fear of losing federal funding, the law accomplished nothing on its own. Rather, it paved the way for a revised law in 2014 that established the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee 15 allowed cultivators and nearly 100 proposed dispensaries to be located around the state. For those who register with the state, purchasing MMJ won’t be available until 2017 due to delays in processing the large number of applications from those wanting to grow, distribute and sell cannabis.
Maryland’s House of Delegates is also voting to expand the group of providers that had only included physicians to add midwives, podiatrists, nurses and dentists, creating a much wider network of care for those who may require it.
More importantly, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill in 2014 that decriminalized the possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis, making it a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $100. However, a convenient gap was left in the bill that continued to treat those caught with drug paraphernalia—pipes, bongs, baggies, etc.—as criminal activity. That gap was closed in 2015 with Senator Bobby Zirkin’s SB 517 bill that decriminalized paraphernalia as well. Those caught smoking in public now face a $500 fine.
In order to effectively capture the absurdity of decriminalizing cannabis but not the bag that holds it, bill supporter Anne Kaiser put it in terms every Marylander would understand: Blue Crab and Old Bay.
“Imagine that they were both illegal, and suddenly we allowed people to eat Maryland blue crabs, but we still kept the Old Bay illegal. It would be inconceivable,” Kaiser said, according to Inquisitr.
While current Governor Larry Hogan tried to veto the bill, he was overridden by the Democrat-controlled senate who mustered up a two-thirds majority vote to overturn Hogan’s veto. Decriminalization is a huge step in fighting the unfair persecution of minorities who face three times the risk of going to jail for possession and smoking in public than caucasians, despite similar use rates.
“Bringing back criminal penalties for marijuana flies in the face of what most Maryland residents prefer and will overwhelmingly impact low-income communities, renters, those who consume marijuana for medical reasons and people of color,” wrote Leigh Maddox, a retired captain of the Maryland State Police, per the Washington Post.
In fact, according to a February Goucher Poll, 54 percent of Maryland residents support the full legalization of marijuana, echoing national trends that show a majority supporting the end of prohibition.
While medical marijuana in Maryland has faced a long and, so far, ineffective road to legalization, 2017 will show whether Maryland can meet the needs of its residents as dispensaries begin to open. From there, full-legalization is only a matter of time.
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