Maryland might still be years away from the launch of its new legal marijuana market, but the start of the new year has still marked the beginning of the post-prohibition era mid-Atlantic state.
A large majority of Maryland voters approved a ballot initiative in November that will both legalize recreational pot use for adults in the state and also establish a regulated retail cannabis market.
Per local news station WJLA, although “recreational marijuana won’t be fully legal until July 1, as of now possession of up to 1.5 ounces is no longer a crime”; instead, according to the station, “It’s a civil violation carrying a $100 fine.”
“For amounts up to 2.5 ounces the fine is $250,” the station reported.
But the new law will yield immediate changes on the criminal justice front.
According to WJLA, Marylanders with a cannabis-related conviction on their criminal record on will have it automatically be expunged by July 1, 2024, but they do not have to wait that long.
“You can go to the Maryland Courts website and apply for an expungement without any help from an attorney. They even have instructional videos,” the station said.
WJLA continued: “There is also very good news for those currently locked up for cannabis-related crimes. As long as that is the only crime for which they’re serving a sentence, they can immediately ask for resentencing and a judge must resentence to time served and they must be released.”
Sixty-seven percent of Maryland voters approved Question 4 in November, making the state the latest to end the prohibition on cannabis use.
The “Yes on 4” campaign was bankrolled by Trulieve, a major cannabis company with a significant presence in Maryland’s existing medical cannabis market.
The campaign also deployed former Baltimore Ravens player Eugene Monroe as its chairman.
“Tonight voters in Maryland made history by bringing the era of failed marijuana prohibition to an end,” Monroe said in a statement following its passage in November, as quoted by the Associated Press. “For decades, the unequally enforced criminalization of cannabis in Maryland inflicted damage upon Black and Brown communities. We must turn the page on that disturbing history by centering Maryland’s legal marijuana market around racial equity. Cannabis legalization will create good-paying jobs, open up doors for small business owners, and generate new tax revenue for our state. Legislators in Maryland have a responsibility to ensure people in historically underserved communities are able to enjoy those benefits.”
The success of Question 4 was foreshadowed by a series of encouraging polls for the campaign.
One that was released in early October by the University of Maryland and The Washington Post found more than 70% of voters in favor of cannabis legalization.
“The thing that stood out to me is the high level of support and the diversity of support. Whether you look across party, region, almost every characteristic, you see majorities supporting this,” said Michael Hanmer, the director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, as quoted by The Washington Post. “That’s been the trend across the country. People have really shifted their views across time on this issue, all pointing in the direction of being more supportive.”
The “Yes on 4” campaign has been optimistic about the new law’s potential economic benefits for the state, projecting that legalization could “provide the state with over $135 million in tax revenue.”
“That figure does not include city and county revenue or the savings from the millions of dollars Maryland spends each year enforcing marijuana possession laws. Passing Maryland Question 4 would empower local law enforcement to focus its limited resources on combating violent crimes. Of the ten counties in the United States with the highest rates of marijuana possession arrests, Maryland is home to three of them,” the campaign said on its website.