Top Issues of 2022 Session: Recreational Adult Cannabis Use and Considerations for Counties

With the 2022 Legislative Session rapidly approaching, MACo is profiling some major issues that stand to gather attention in the General Assembly’s work. Here, we preview recreational adult cannabis use and the potential paths to reforms.

Several years after the passage of medical cannabis use, Maryland’s leaders are expected to consider adult recreational use in 2022 — which statewide polls have shown is consistently supported in the state.

The Senate and House worked on the issue during the interim, and lawmakers have studied various aspects of legalization for years.

In July, Speaker Adrienne Jones announced that she supported moving legalization forward via the ballot, but the Senate remains unclear on its stance. Jones also announced the creation of a new work group to consider the mechanics of legalization. Notably, work group Chair (and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee), Luke Clippinger, has already pre-filed HB 0001 for the 2022 legislative session — a result of the group’s work.

While it remains unknown how leadership will ultimately compromise on  the issue, there are two main paths forward:

  1. Pass a bill legalizing recreational use during the 2022 session, to go into effect at a determined time by the legislation.
  2. Pass a ballot initiative bill to put the issue before voters during the 2022 election — essentially tabling the issue until November, 2022.

The Department of Legislative Services (DLS) tackled the issue in its 2022 Legislative Session Issue Papers:

Although illegal at the federal level, states began legalizing cannabis for medical purposes in 1996, and for nonmedical adult use in 2012. As of June 2021, medical cannabis is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia and adult-use cannabis is legal in 18 states and District of Columbia. Medical cannabis has been available in Maryland since 2017. In recent years, the General Assembly has demonstrated interest in legalizing adult-use cannabis. A primary concern is the potential impact on public health. For a discussion of other issues related to legalization, please see “Legalization of Cannabis” within the Criminal Law section of this Issue Papers of the 2022 Legislative Session.

In addition to adopting health policies similar to those of other states, Maryland could minimize the potential health and safety impacts of cannabis legalization in a number of ways. According to MMCC, consideration should be given to funding for improved data collection, potency and strength restrictions, penalties for sales to minors and compliance check systems, training and use of drug recognition experts, and public outreach through prevention and education campaigns. Maryland’s medical cannabis program requires products to be tested by independent laboratories and includes advertising restrictions and labeling requirements. These health and safety policies could also be utilized if Maryland adopts an adult-use law.

Impact on counties

Recreational use would pose a unique set of challenges for counties, especially as employers in the public sector. Of particular concern is workplace safety and hazards, especially for county employees who operate machinery, drive county vehicles, or who interact with the public. MACo has raised similar concerns about medical cannabis use.

Additionally, counties would have to consider zoning and land use implications. It is unclear at this time whether the legislature would mandate that all counties participate, or if there will be an opt-out option for those that are not keen sales and distribution happening within county boundaries.

While these considerations are difficult to tackle, there is great potential for counties to benefit from the taxation of recreational sales.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street to see how recreational cannabis use and other top issues are taken up during the 2022 legislative session.

Read the full DLS issue papers (analysis of recreational cannabis starts on page 97).

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