A group of Maryland lawmakers hold a meeting in Annapolis on Aug. 19 to assess whether to legalize marijuana in the state. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
A group of Maryland lawmakers hold a meeting in Annapolis on Aug. 19 to assess whether to legalize marijuana in the state. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — If Maryland lawmakers decide to legalize marijuana for recreational use, then they should outline agencies responsible to oversee program, put together an advisory council and outline advertising restrictions.

These are just three of the several recommendations an 18-member work group of state senators and delegates received Monday, Aug. 19 to assess the legalization of marijuana in the state.

“To manage this, it will be a shared responsibility,” said Matthew Swinburne, associate director of Network for Public Health Law-Eastern Region of Baltimore. “To effectively oversee an adult-use market, you will need a variety of agencies.”

Swinburne presented the pros and cons of 11 states and the District of Columbia which manage recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older.

Although Maryland and 32 other states and D.C. approved medical marijuana usage, Swinburne outlined rules and regulations for personal consumption are slightly different depending on the state.

For instance, residents in the states of Illinois and Washington are prohibited to cultivate cannabis for personal use, but can for medical purposes. In Nevada, residents can own six plants but must be at least 25 miles from a retail location.

State Sen. Melanie Griffith (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro asked whether there are any economic benefits for counties and municipalities to allow for recreational marijuana use.

Swinburne said local jurisdictions can decide to prohibit, but isn’t sure about whether states allow local jurisdictions to impose additional taxes to sell marijuana for personal use.

John Hudak, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, said there are pros and cons to legalizing cannabis, pointing out that the economic revenue in Colorado increased every year from $683.5 million in 2014 to $1.54 billion in 2018. In Washington state, revenue increased from nearly $260 million in 2015 to $1.3 billion in 2017, he said.

Hudak said cannabis-related crimes in legalization states and the District decreased by at least 80 percent. However, Hudak said racial disparities in arrest rates remained in those states, worsening in some cases.

“This also is a depression part of this conversation around cannabis legalization,” he said. “There are ways to deal with that in terms of police training, in terms of cultural training [for] law enforcement agencies. … The reality is that institutionalized racism exists in our society.”

The work group will divide itself into several committees slated to look at criminal justice, public health, taxing and licensing and minority participation.

State Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City), who emphasized marijuana convictions should be automatically expunged from a person’s record if marijuana is legalized, asked about the price to purchase it legally as opposed to on the black market.

Hudak said legal cannabis will more than likely cost more, but purchasing a flower cannabis “that you are going to smoke [with] the quality, the consistency and safety of it is going to be better in a legal market than it will be in a black market.”

When asked by Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County) about some marijuana studies that show a decrease in opioid addition in legalized states, Hudak summarized them as a “seesaw” of critiques.

“Too many people are drawing definitive conclusions based on findings they want to be right and not the broader populations that study this,” he said. “Everything that I’ve read, I am not convinced that there is a cause or link between marijuana use and a reduction in opioid use for a treatment of opioid use disorder.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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