by Bryan Kim ‘23
On April 1, the Maryland General Assembly approved a bill to put the legalization of recreational marijuana use on the state’s 2022 ballot in November. The bill would allow individuals over the age of 21 to possess up to 1.5 ounces or 12 grams of concentrated cannabis and up to two cannabis plants for personal use. Maryland voters should approve this referendum as it makes drug use safer and it would reduce racial disparities in incarceration.
Furthermore, the bill would allow for automatic expungements of some marijuana-related arrests and resentencing of those convicted of some marijuana-related charges. It would also establish the Cannabis Business Assistance Fund and the Cannabis Public Health Fund, requiring specific studies on the use of cannabis, the medical cannabis industry, and the adult-use cannabis industry, all funded by taxes placed on the drug.
Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in 2012. And now a decade later, if approved by voters in November, Maryland would join the list of now 18 states, such as Virginia and New Jersey along with Washington D.C. Furthermore, on April 1, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill aiming to legalize and decriminalize the use of medicinal and recreational marijuana. The push to legalize marijuana by many state and federal legislatures has become a nationwide movement.
The legalization of marijuana would allow for the government to more thoroughly regulate the industry, minimizing potential harms and ultimately making marijuana use much safer for consumers. The whole supply chain of the drug would be under government regulation, from the grower to the distributor to the consumer, phasing cannabis and money out of underground markets, such as drug cartels, street gangs, and organized crime.
A study correlates the legalization of cannabis to a decrease in opiate use. In 2019, opioid overdoses accounted for more than 70 percent of the 70,630 drug related deaths in the United States. The study also shows that states with recreational cannabis laws such as California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, have seen a 7.6-percent reduction in opiate related emergencies during the six months after legalization laws went into effect, in comparison to states that have not implemented such laws. As the opioid epidemic continues to rise, the legalization of cannabis may be a timely solution to help curb the dangerous use of opiates.
The current criminalization of marijuana use disproportionately affects those of color, as racial disparities in drug enforcement are apparent. In the United States, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be incarcerated for the possession of marijuana than white people, even though white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate. A survey showed that around half of all Maryland residents have admitted to using marijuana. As Maryland Delegate David Moon (D) of Montgomery County notes, “Half of Maryland residents likely got away with a jailable offense when they did this. The more disturbing part of this is that White Marylanders have been getting away with this jailable offense at much higher rates than all the rest of us [people of color].”
The legalization of recreational marijuana in Maryland would make drug use safer for consumers, and it would help reduce racial disparities in incarceration, as current drug enforcement disproportionately impacts those of color. A vote to legalize marijuana use is a vote for common-sense and fairness.