Maryland lawmakers work on cannabis, guns, at session’s end

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland lawmakers kept working Friday on passing some remaining priority measures of the Democratic-led legislature in the waning days of the session. At the top of the list: bills to enable a recreational marijuana market to open July 1 and to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year that expanded gun rights.

With the session set to end at midnight Monday, a sense of urgency was setting in for supporters of bills that had not yet been passed by the General Assembly in the 90-day session.

Police led several protesters away in handcuffs down the steps of the Capitol, as they rallied to urge lawmakers to pass a bill that would enable any resident to enroll in a health plan through the state’s Health Benefit Exchange, regardless of their immigration status. The measure called the Access to Care Act has passed the House, but has not advanced in the Senate.

Meanwhile, lawmakers continued working on legislation that creates licensing and tax rates to open a recreational marijuana market on July 1. In November, voters approved a constitutional amendment with 67% of the vote to enable adults ages 21 and older to be able to legally posses up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis.

Existing medical cannabis dispensaries will be able to have dual licenses to sell recreational marijuana. There will be additional licenses available with priority given to minority owners in communities that have been negatively affected by past marijuana laws. Both the House and Senate have passed separate versions of the legislation.

One difference between the two chambers is the tax rate. The House measure would impose a 6% tax in the next fiscal year. It would go up 1% each year to maximum of 10% in fiscal year 2028. The Senate bill would put a 9% tax on recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana would remain untaxed.

Lawmakers also were working on changes to state gun laws, after the Supreme Court struck down a New York law last year that was very similar to Maryland’s “good and substantial reason” standard for permits to carry concealed handguns.

The court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen ended a requirement for people to demonstrate a particular need to get a license to carry a concealed gun in public, saying it violates Second Amendment rights.

A measure that has passed the Senate would prohibit certain areas where someone could carry a concealed handgun. Those places would generally be in an area for children, like schools, or a government or public infrastructure area.

A bill that has passed the House would remove the “good and substantial reason” language to make the state’s concealed carry law comply with the court’s ruling. It also would prohibit possession of a regulated firearm and procuring a wear-and-carry permit, if a person is on supervised probation for a crime with a maximum penalty of a year or more, or supervised probation for any driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated or supervised probation for violating a protective order.

The House and Senate also are working on reconciling some differences in a bill that expands Maryland’s commitment to offshore wind as part of the state’s efforts to address climate change. It sets a goal for Maryland to generate 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2031. The bill also aims to modernize the electricity grid to transmit offshore wind energy from the ocean to land.

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