Maryland Marijuana Legalization Law Officially Takes Effect As Adult-Use Sales Launch

July 3, 2023 ·

Maryland’s marijuana legalization law officially took effect on Saturday, with simple possession and personal cultivation becoming legal as the majority of existing medical cannabis dispensaries opened their doors to adult consumers for the first recreational sales.

Meanwhile, a separate law also took effect on Saturday that prevents police from using the odor or possession of marijuana alone as the basis of a search. Yet another law going into force makes it so the lawful and responsible use of cannabis by parents and guardians cannot be construed by state officials as child “neglect.”

Nearly 100 dispensaries have been approved by state regulators to covert to dual licensees that will be able to serve both patients and adult consumers over the age of 21 under a ballot measure approved by voters last year.

Lawmakers have worked expediently to ensure that the industry infrastructure is put into place in tandem with the legalization of simple possession and home cultivation. Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed legislation in May to establish a regulatory framework for cannabis sales to achieve that goal.

In addition to the 95 medical cannabis dispensaries that have been approved for adult-use sales so far, the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA) announced on Wednesday that it has approved 42 cultivators and manufacturers to supply the new market.

“The Maryland Cannabis Administration, in collaboration with our industry partners, is excited to offer safer, legal, tested cannabis to adults in Maryland beginning on July 1,” MCA Acting Director Will Tilburg said in a press release on Friday. “We encourage adults to be informed about both the parameters of the new law and about safe and responsible cannabis consumption.”

The release notes that products that can be legally purchased as of Saturday include dried flower, pre-rolled joints, vape cartridges, disposable vape pens, edibles, capsules, tinctures and topical products “with less than 10 mg of THC per serving and 100 mg of THC per package.”

“Smoking cannabis is not permitted in public, including outdoor spaces, or in bars, restaurants, on public transit, and in moving vehicles,” it says. “Driving under the influence of cannabis is still illegal in Maryland and it is illegal to transport cannabis products purchased in Maryland out of state.”

MCA Deputy Director Dawn Berkowitz said that the “administration has developed public and consumer education materials to encourage informed, responsible, and safe cannabis use and will continue to roll out a campaign in the coming weeks and months.”

“All dispensaries have received point-of-sale education materials, especially helpful for new or novice consumers,” she said. “Posters will be displayed that present an overview of the laws, encourage new consumers to ‘start low and go slow’ when it comes to consumption, and keep cannabis safely stored in a locked container at home.”

Sen. Brian Feldman (D), who championed cannabis legalization legislation, spoke at a Trulieve location in Rockville on Saturday, saying it is “pretty remarkable how the landscape on cannabis has shifted dramatically over the last decade.”

De. Jheanelle Wilkins (D), who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, spoke alongside Feldman, celebrating “the creation and expansion of a brand new industry in our state.”

“We are putting another nail in the coffin of the war on drugs,” she said.

In May, MCA released a first batch of rules for the industry to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR), a key step to stand up the industry that launched on Saturday.

The 41-page document sets definitions, codifies personal possession limits, lays out responsibilities for regulators, explains licensing protocol—including for social equity applicants, clarifies enforcement authorities and penalties and outlines packaging and labeling requirements.

Meanwhile, last month, the state Department of Commerce (DOC) started accepting applications for grants to help existing medical marijuana businesses convert into dual licensees that can serve the adult-use market.

“On the ballot last November, Marylanders made it clear they wanted an end to cannabis prohibition in the Free State. That historic moment has arrived,” Olivia Naugle, senior policy analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a press release. “These new laws will dramatically reduce police interactions for cannabis, and provide adults 21 and older with safe, legal access to cannabis products. We’re proud to join our allies, legislative leaders, and Marylanders across the state in celebrating this victory and reflecting on the tireless work put in to get here.”

Here’s what adults need to know about Maryland’s legalization law that took effect on Saturday: 

  • Adults 21 and older can possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis—and criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces are also eliminated.
  • They are also allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.
  • Convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law will be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses will be eligible for resentencing.
  • People with convictions for possession with intent to distribute can petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.

Under the separate law on cannabis odor rules for police that also took effect on Saturday, law enforcement “may not initiate a stop or a search of a person, a motor vehicle, or a vessel” based only on the smell of burnt or unburnt cannabis, the possession of a personal use amount of marijuana or the presence of money near marijuana without additional evidence of intent to distribute.

Further, the bill says police cannot search certain parts of a motor vehicle for marijuana during investigations into suspected impaired driving, including parts of the car that aren’t accessible to the driver or any areas that aren’t “reasonably likely to contain evidence relevant to the condition of the driver or operator.”

The third law that takes effect on Saturday adds language to existing statute stating that childhood neglect “does not include the use of cannabis by any parent or individual who has permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for supervision of the child,” with certain exceptions.

A caretaker could be found liable of neglect if “the child’s health or welfare is harmed or place at substantial risk of harm” or “the child has suffered mental injury or been placed at substantial risk of mental injury” as a result of parental or guardian marijuana use.

Meanwhile, the relatively quick timeline for the launch of commercial sales has put pressure on state official to enact the regulations that have come together over recent weeks.

“Maryland residents, like the majority of Americans, prefer a policy of cannabis legalization and regulation and they are rightly moving away from the failed policies of criminalization and stigmatization,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a blog post.

The ballot measure and subsequent regulations legislation that the governor signed was partly a product of extensive work from bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers who were part of House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which was formed in 2021 by Speaker Adrienne Jones (D).

“Today recreational adult cannabis use is legal in Maryland,” Jones tweeted on Saturday. “We have done our due diligence. We have compiled the best recreational cannabis practices learned from other states with lessons from the medical cannabis industry to create an equitable implementation framework.”

Members held numerous meetings to inform future regulations following Maryland voters’ approval of a legalization referendum during last year’s election, which triggered the implementation of complementary legislation covering rules for basic policies like possession and low-level home cultivation.

Parts of the referendum took effect at the beginning of this year. Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis became a civil offense, punishable by a $100 fine, with a $250 fine in place for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces.

Adult-use legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature in the 2021 session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing that year on a legalization bill, which followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal.

Maryland legalized medical cannabis through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana with a civil fine of $100 to $500.

The governor additionally signed a measure in May to make it so the lawful and responsible use of marijuana by parents and guardians will not be construed by state officials as child “neglect.” (Full Story)

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