Voters in Maryland last year elected a new governor and approved an initiative legalizing recreational cannabis.
Now, the freshly sworn-in Gov. Wes Moore will lead the effort to implement the state’s marijuana law.
“People of the state overwhelmingly chose to decriminalize cannabis. So we as a state now have an obligation to make sure that the will of the people is both heard, but that we do have a swift and equitable rollout,” Moore, a Democrat, told Politico in an interview that was published this week.
Moore won handily in his race against Republican Dan Cox in November, 65% to 32%, to become Maryland’s first black governor.
In the same election, Maryland voters approved Question 4, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults in the state and also laid the groundwork for a regulated retail cannabis market, by roughly the same margin.
When the calendar flipped to 2023 this month, parts of that new cannabis law took effect.
Possession of as many as one-and-a-half ounces of weed no longer constitutes a crime in Maryland; instead, it is currently only a civil violation. It will be fully legal starting in July.
Additionally, Marylanders who have a marijuana-related conviction on their records will have it expunged from their records by the summer of 2024, although they have the option to petition and ask a judge to resentence in order to have it scrubbed sooner.
The state’s regulated cannabis market, however, likely won’t launch until 2024 or 2025.
In his interview with Politico this week, Moore said it is important for the rollout of the new marijuana program to not be long and drawn out.
“That is something that we will be [working with] the legislature during this session and something that we are going to have to lay out when we look at our budgetary agenda.
That is how we’re making sure that the process of the rollout of cannabis is going to be equitable, it’s going to be transparent and it’s going to be quick,” said Moore, who was sworn in as governor on Wednesday. “We cannot have a process that takes 18 to 24 months to roll out, because if this goes on too long, what you’re doing is you’re inviting the illegal market back into it. Then you’re going to run into some of the same challenges that some of these other states are having or have had.”
Moore added, “This has to be something where, once we have everything in place when it comes to cannabis, from distribution, taxation and revenue returns, [if you’re buying on the black market] then that, like any other illegal transaction, is now an illegal transaction. I think that’s one of the reasons why, again, we want to make sure we’re being transparent, equitable and quick within this process.”
Sixty-seven percent of Maryland voters approved Question 4 in November, while only 33% voted against the measure.
Question 4 was backed financially by the cannabis giant Trulieve, which already operates medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
The “Yes on 4” campaign was led by Eugene Monroe, a former player for the Baltimore Ravens.
“Tonight voters in Maryland made history by bringing the era of failed marijuana prohibition to an end,” Monroe said in November after Question 4 passed. “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.”