Maryland’s marijuana legalization law officially takes effect on Saturday, with simple possession and personal cultivation set to become legal as the majority of existing medical cannabis dispensaries prepare to open their doors to adult consumers for the first time. Meanwhile, ahead of the launch, the governor is reaffirming his commitment to fostering an industry that puts equity first.
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Nearly 100 dispensaries have been approved by state regulators to covert to dual licensees that will be able to serve patients and adult consumers over the age of 21 alike. They will be authorized to sell to both groups starting July 1, when legalization takes effect under a ballot measure approved by voters last year.
Lawmakers have worked expediently to ensure that the industry infrastructure is put into place in tandem with the legalization of simple possession and home cultivation. Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed legislation last month to establish a regulatory framework for cannabis sales to achieve that goal.
At a Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) conference in Maryland on Monday, Moore said that, historically, “cannabis policy has been used as a cudgel to oppress, jail, and discriminate against our fellow citizens, especially people of color—and the war on drugs didn’t just fail, it made us weaker as a nation.”
“But now, we are writing a new chapter in the story of cannabis in America—a chapter focused on equity and economic growth,” he said. “It’s time we moved away from this false choice that says we must pick an economy that is equitable or an economy that is growing—we can, and we will, do both.”
In addition to the 94 medical cannabis dispensaries that have been approved for adult-use sales so far, the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA) announced earlier this month that it has approved 38 cultivators and manufacturers to supply the new market.
“In order to operate on or after July 1, 2023, an existing medical cannabis licensee or preapproved entity must pay the conversion fee and convert their license to a standard medical and adult-use license,” MCA said. “Standard cannabis licenses will be valid for five years and will authorize a licensee to grow, process, or dispense both adult-use and medical cannabis. Licenses who choose not to convert may continue to hold their license for resale, but may not operate under the license beginning July 1, 2023.”
Last month, MCA released a first batch of rules for the industry to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR), a key step to stand up the industry before legalization is officially implemented this weekend.
The 41-page rule sets definitions, codifies personal possession limits, lays out responsibilities for regulators, explains licensing protocol—including for social equity applicants, clarifies enforcement authorities and penalties and outlines packaging and labeling requirements.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, the state Department of Commerce (DOC) started accepting applications for grants to help existing medical marijuana businesses convert into dual licensees that can serve the adult-use market.
Under the referendum that voters approved in November, legalization of possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis takes effect on Saturday—with an additional removal of criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces.
Adults 21 and older will also be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.
Meanwhile, the relatively quick timeline for the launch of commercial sales has put pressure on state official to enact the regulations that have come together over recent weeks.
“Maryland residents, like the majority of Americans, prefer a policy of cannabis legalization and regulation and they are rightly moving away from the failed policies of criminalization and stigmatization,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a blog post last week.
The ballot measure and subsequent regulations legislation that the governor signed was partly a product of extensive work from bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers who were part of House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which was formed in 2021 by Speaker Adrienne Jones (D).
Members held numerous meetings to inform future regulations following Maryland voters’ approval of a legalization referendum during last year’s election, which triggered the implementation of complementary legislation covering rules for basic policies like possession and low-level home cultivation.
Also under enacted legislation, convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law will be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses will be eligible for resentencing. The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute can petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.
Parts of the referendum took effect at the beginning of this year. Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis became a civil offense, punishable by a $100 fine, with a $250 fine in place for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces.
Adult-use legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature in the 2021 session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing that year on a legalization bill, which followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal.
Maryland legalized medical cannabis through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana with a civil fine of $100 to $500.
Meanwhile, Moore also recently allowed a bill to become law that prevents police from using the odor or possession of cannabis alone as the basis of a search.
He additionally signed a measure last month to make it so the lawful and responsible use of marijuana by parents and guardians will not be construed by state officials as child “neglect.”