Senators prepare marijuana regulatory bill for vote in coming days

Sen. Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s, says it will be important for legislation to regulate the recreational marijuana industry to reduce incentives for distributors to enter the illicit market. (AP File Photo/Julio Cortez)

Maryland state senators on Monday prepared for a final vote in the coming days on legislation to regulate, license and tax businesses that sell recreational marijuana beginning July 1.

Maryland voters in November approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and possession for people ages 21 and older. The vote was 2-1 in favor of the constitutional amendment.

State lawmakers have said it will be essential for the legislature to ensure that minority business owners in communities that have been disproportionately hurt by the historic criminalization of marijuana receive priority for licenses.

The House of Delegates voted 103-32 on March 10 to approve its version of the bill, HB 556, which included several amendments to its original form.

“I’m not here to create a cash cow for the state,” Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, said during a hearing in February. “I’m here to make sure that we can prevent young folks from being arrested and dying because of this substance.”

Wilson said it was also his goal to make it safer for people to use marijuana recreationally and rid the state of an illicit black market.

The House’s version of the Cannabis Reform bill would allow existing medical marijuana dispensaries to also sell the drug recreationally.

On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee reviewed the House’s version of the bill with the intent of eventually reaching a vote to advance the Senate’s version, SB 516.

Heading into the meeting, Committee Chair Sen. Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s, said in a phone interview that it will be important for the legislature to reduce incentives for distributors to enter the illicit market.

Among the first changes that the Senate Finance Committee voted for on Monday is a reversal of a House provision prohibiting businesses selling cannabis for recreational use from repackaging the drug.

Under the committee’s amendment, which passed 10-1, businesses selling marijuana for recreational use would be able to repackage the drug in a process consistent with what medicinal marijuana distributors can do.

Lawmakers are seeking to establish the rules and regulations for selling marijuana before the end of the legislative session on April 10.

The Cannabis Reform bill, if passed in the coming days, would rename the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission, expanding the body’s responsibilities to include regulating marijuana.

The bill also includes provisions to encourage participation from “social equity applicants,” defined as someone seeking a license or registration who has lived in or attended school in an area disproportionately impacted by cannabis possession charges.

Social equity applicants would also include someone who for at least two years attended a four-year college or university in the state where at least 40% of students are eligible for a federal Pell Grant.

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