On February 13, 2015, Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Curt Anderson introduced companion bills in the House and Senate that would legalize recreational marijuana statewide. Currently four states have legalized recreational marijuana: Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.
Specifics of the bill
The Marijuana Control & Revenue Act of 2015 (HB911) would regulate the marijuana industry in Maryland in a manner similar to alcohol. If this bill were passed, Maryland would become the second legislative body to approve recreational marijuana.
The proposed bill would allow any person 21 years old or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and be able to grow up to 6 plants in their residence. With regard to production and distribution, the bill proposes that the Maryland Comptroller create guidelines for the operation of cultivation facilities, product manufacturers, retailers, and safety compliance labs. The bill also provides that the use of marijuana in public and driving under the influence would be illegal and that a marijuana business would not allowed within 1,000 feet of a school.
Previous measures to decriminalize marijuana
Last year, Maryland shifted its stance on marijuana to decriminalize small amounts for possession. Possession of less than 10 grams is now considered a civil offense as opposed to a criminal offense.
First time offenders would receive a fine of up to $100 and a 2nd offense up to $250. A third offense & subsequent offenses would be subject to a fine of up to $500.
Similar legislation proposed in 2014 showed that the state could generate $95 million in revenue from a $50 per ounce excise tax and roughly $39 million in sales tax. In addition, the state could potentially take in $2 to $4 million in annual licensing fees from wholesalers, retailers, and safety compliance facilities. These annual revenues from license renewals alone would cover the yearly regulatory budget as well as oversight for the program and then some.
Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, is quoted as saying “the focus in Maryland this year is clear: creating jobs, improving the economy, and balancing the budget.”
Legalizing marijuana and taxing and regulating it like alcohol, would help accomplish all three goals. Colorado is experiencing one of the highest job creation rates in the country, and it’s no secret that the burgeoning marijuana industry has been a factor. This bill would generate significant new revenue without increasing existing taxes and at the same time would also limit government intrusion into Marylanders’ private lives.
While the bill may pass the House, it may have difficulty clearing the senate. Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller was quoted in the Baltimore Sun in January as having said that the Senate is not ready to approve legislation to permit the recreational use of marijuana. “We’re going to move forward with medical marijuana, try to solve people’s aches and ills,” Miller said, according to the Sun. “If it’s a valuable resource for people with cancer, we’re going to make it available to them.” But in terms of making it available to the general public, I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon.”
Although support for the bill is significant in the State House, the Senate and the Governor still remain a major headwind for recreational legalization. Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan has not threatened to veto the bill, but he did say in a previous interview that he was not a supporter of recreational marijuana legalization.
Although some legislators may not support the legalization, they would need to analyze the recent economic data out of their state. For 2014, Maryland’s budget shortfall was larger than expected. Maryland is currently running a budget deficit that is $1.2 billion short of the state’s expenses. The Maryland legislature will need to shave off $420 million before their fiscal year ends in June, and another $750 million out of the first budget of newly elected Larry Hogan’s budget.
With significant budget cuts on the way, this may be the year where the government takes a better look at generating more revenue instead of implementing drastic budget cuts. Since 53% of Maryland residents are in favor of legalization, lawmakers have the support of their constituents. Legalization would not be a tough sell, and it would provide the state with a new revenue stream to minimize their deficits.