Maryland lawmakers are pushing to legalize marijuana and wipe out convictions

Maryland lawmakers are considering a bill to legalize marijuana and wipe out convictions for some previous cannabis offenses. The measure, House Bill 32 (HB 32), was passed at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The law would legalize possession of up to four ounces of marijuana under state law, and remove convictions for owning or growing marijuana in amounts legalized by the measure. The Judiciary Committee also discussed how a regulated cannabis market would affect the state.

Prior to Tuesday’s committee hearing, Del. Jazz Lewis, a Democrat from St. George’s County, said the bill would help address the damage caused by the failed marijuana policy.

“I will testify on HB 32 to end the cannabis ban and create avenues in the industry for those hardest hit by the war on drugs,” Lewis said on Twitter. “This bill is equity in action.”

During the House Committee hearing, Lewis said that resolving previous cannabis convictions is a necessary part of marijuana policy reform legislation.

“Any legalization bill is meaningless if it does not deal with the deletion of records,” said Lewis.

Lewis’ bill is also supported by several groups advocating cannabis policy reform.

“We have to end the ongoing war on drugs,” said Rajani Gudlavalletti of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, while Ben Jealous of Progressive Maryland said HB 32 “creates rights over injustice and a more inclusive economy.”

Olivia Naugle, of the Marijuana Policy Project, said cannabis reforms should be passed “to ensure corporate ownership and the participation of communities disproportionately affected by the ban in the legal industry.”

Bill faces the usual opposition

HB 32 is opposed by those who intend to continue the cannabis ban, and who often rely on unproven ideas to defend their case. In response to criticism that legalization would make marijuana easily accessible to children, Naugle noted that young people are already able to source cannabis under current policies.

“Drug dealers don’t check IDs, so this directive would regulate cannabis here,” said Naugle.

The bill is also being rejected by AAA Mid-Atlantic on the unproven assumption that legalizing cannabis will reduce road safety.

“While we recognize the complexity of HB 32 and the many public policy implications of the legislation, AAA is opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis because of the road safety risks it entails,” said Ragina Ali, public and government affairs manager at AAA Mid- Atlantic.

State Senate is also considering legalization law

The Maryland Senate also has a law pending legalization of cannabis. Senate Bill 708 (SB 708) would also legalize small amounts of adult marijuana and build a regulated cannabis economy. The law is supported by prominent Senate Democrats, including Senate President Bill Ferguson.

“There is no doubt that adult cannabis legalization is a complex issue,” Ferguson said on the subject earlier this month. “We need to ensure that the economic benefits are shared fairly and that criminal justice reform is incorporated.”

“Maryland is ready to move on and I look forward to his hearing,” added Ferguson.

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