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Recreational Cannabis Bills Introduced

medpot-300x188Marijuana will be legalized for adult recreational use this summer, but until recently there was no indication when it would actually be available to purchase.  Those following marijuana policy closely in Maryland are well aware that the first medical marijuana sales occurred almost five years after medical cannabis was signed into law by the governor.  The delay was extremely frustrating for patients, lawmakers, government officials and investors, and not something anyone wanted to repeat.  Considering much of the infrastructure already exists for selling cannabis, the delay for recreational sales to begin was never expected to approach five years.  But would it take 1 or 2 years?  Would there be a lengthy limbo period like in New York City or Washington D.C., where pot is legal but difficult or impossible to purchase lawfully?  The referendum for legalization in Maryland easily passed in November of 2022, but it did not provide any clarity as to when recreational sales would actually begin.  During the last couple of weeks though lawmakers in Annapolis have worked hard to instill confidence that on or about July 1 recreational marijuana will be available to adults over the age of 21.

Senate Bill 516 was recently introduced in the form of an 88-page behemoth that lays out a comprehensive plan for the state’s recreational cannabis plan.  The companion bill, House Bill 556 is also 88 pages and is set for a hearing on February 17.  Both bills aim to have recreational cannabis up and running this summer, and both would authorize at least 500 dispensary licenses as well as 50 on-site consumption licenses.  If the bill becomes law there will soon be numerous establishments where any adult over the age of 21 could purchase and smoke marijuana in the state of Maryland.  The bills also distinguish standard grower, processor and dispensary licenses from micro-licenses, which have smaller space limitations.

The bills also preserve the medical cannabis program by authorizing those under the age of 21 and over to purchase and possess up to 120 grams of cannabis or 36 grams of THC infused products.  School personnel would be permitted to administer medical cannabis to a student as long as it is obtained from, and administered per a certified caregiver’s instructions.  Students may be administered medical cannabis at school activities and on school busses.  Medical cannabis would not subject to the same sales tax as recreational cannabis, which would start out at 6 percent and rise to 10 percent.  Other provisions include prohibiting local governments  from assessing their own taxes and from establishing zoning requirements that unduly burden cannabis licensees.

Both bills also establish punishments if dispensaries sell marijuana to a person without valid identification.  Violation of this requirement would be considered a misdemeanor with escalating fines starting out at $500 for a first offense and raise to $1,000 for a second offense within 24 months.  Subsequent violations would then jump to $5,000 fines and the potential for suspension or revocation of the cannabis license.  It is a defense under this provision that the agent of the dispensary was presented a valid government ID that stated the customer was of age, and thus it seems this would not be a strict liability offense.  The House and the Senate bills both expressly do not authorize an individual to use operate a motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft under the influence of cannabis, and also do not prohibit a landlord from prohibiting the smoking of marijuana in a rental unit.  Cannabis vaping does not apply to this section, and thus a renter cannot be prohibited from vaping in her or her rental unit.  It is not stated in the bill, but a renter would also not be able to prohibit the use of marijuana edibles.  Possession of cannabis products would still be illegal at all jails and juvenile detention facilities.

There is certainly much to discuss for lawmakers in Annapolis over the next several weeks, but it does seem realistic that recreational marijuana will be available this year on July 1.  The governor has already indicated support for cannabis legalization, so any bill that hits his desk would likely be signed into law.  The Blog will continue to follow this monumental legislation and may post follow-up articles in the near future.  If you have a marijuana or criminal law question contact Maryland criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation.  Benjamin specializes in drug crimes, DUI, gun and weapons crimes, and is also a licensed Florida criminal lawyer.  Benjamin is also and experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer who handles school expulsion hearings, intake hearings and in circuit court delinquency proceedings.  He also represents clients in state, federal and military courts.


Senate Bill 516, House Bill 556,

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