Maryland votes to legalize recreational marijuana
Voters in more conservative Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota also voted to legalize recreational use this year, marking growing support for a liberal issue. The passage adds Maryland to a growing list of states — 19 and three territories, including D.C. and Virginia — that have legalized recreational drug use for adults.
The referendum was what Kristen White, 29, was most excited about getting out and voting Tuesday in Silver Spring. Legalization has been delayed in Maryland, White said, and she hoped that would end some of the continuation stigma surrounding the use of marijuana.
“The number of people enjoying the use of cannabis has increased,” said White, the event planner. “Less people are afraid of it.”
Maryland’s departure, while expected, reflects shifting national opinions on pot, according to the poll shows more than half of Americans now they support legalization. Last month, President Biden announced mass pardons for those with past convictions for simple possession and we moved to reconsider the classification of Schedule I marijuana, a key message about a substance that remains federally illegal.
“Maryland voters have been loud and clear in their support for legalizing the responsible use of cannabis for adults,” Maryland NORML CEO Losia Nyankale said in a statement on Tuesday night. “Question 4 activates long overdue changes in Maryland’s judicial, social and economic climate. This is an important first step in the right direction.”
With so much apparent support, the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Maryland was stifled in the months and weeks leading up to Election Day. The “Yes on 4” campaign.funded in part by medical cannabis giant Trulieve, it has released several video ads and hosted several smaller rallies.
Instead, many advocates in the state were thinking about how the state could be a leader in social equity for cannabis, a growing priority for advocates across the country who hope legalization can lessen the impact of the drug war on minority communities. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that between 2010 and 2018, black people were arrested 3.64 times more than white people nationally for marijuana use, even though black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. In Maryland, the ACLU found, blacks were more than 2.1 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites.
“To take a stand and say we no longer want the criminalization of cannabis is also an opportunity for us to create an economy around cannabis that has more jobs and is fairer than any other state in this country,” said Del. Stephanie M. Smith (D -Baltimore City) she said at a rally in Baltimore at the end of October.
In the decade since Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, several states have implemented a successful social equity model. Maryland House of Delegates Task Force on Cannabis Referendum and Legalization reviewed the report earlier this month estimated that 81 percent of cannabis business owners nationally are white.
For Shayne Richmond, a senior at the University of Maryland, issues of social equality came first when he voted for legalization. Standing outside Ritchie Coliseum in College Park handing out flyers, Richmond, who is Black, said he was excited about the prospect of Black entrepreneurs opening up in the space.
Criminalization is “another reason for the disproportionate rate of incarceration of African-American men, and that’s something I definitely don’t want to see again,” said Richmond, 22. “I think there’s a lot of business opportunity and opportunity for entrepreneurship and for the black community.”
Maryland decriminalized possession up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014, with a $100 civil penalty. Then the state opened its first medical clinics in 2017, under its own medical marijuana program, which generated more than 420 million dollars in outpatient sales so far this year. But the state has drawn criticism for its initial lack of diversity licensing.
When legislators voted earlier this year to put Question 4 on the ballot, they wrote companion legislation that includes re-sentencing and expungement provisions for those with prior marijuana possession convictions. By passing Question 4, companion legislation requires the state to conduct a public health impact study as well as a disparities study to help future women- and minority-owned businesses enter the new industry.
Other provisions include the creation of a cannabis business relief fund and a community reinvestment and repair fund, which requires at least 30 percent of adult cannabis revenue to be reinvested in communities historically most affected by marijuana prosecutions.
City Councilman Martin A. Mitchell toured districts across the state Tuesday talking to constituents about issues including Question 4. Mitchell, who has been nicknamed the “cannabis councilman” for his outspokenness about marijuana use, reform and advocacy, said the he looks forward to the economic opportunities that legalization could bring if it passes.
“Imagine if we used $2 million from legal cannabis to fix up the Boys and Girls Club,” Mitchell said in Laurel, pointing to the buildings behind him where voters cast their ballots.
But for some voters less familiar with the nuances of social equity, licensing and reinvestment, the decision to vote for legalization came down to changing national perspectives on a once-maligned drug, even if they weren’t users themselves.
That’s how Kathy Baer, a 64-year-old retired public school teacher, saw the problem when she voted for legalization in College Park on Tuesday morning.
“There’s less of a stigma to it. So many people enjoy it. Why not let them?” Baer said. “In my opinion, legalization and the existence of dispensaries makes it a little safer.”
However, public opinion on the use of cannabis is far from unanimous. Anti-legalization groups cite concerns about regulation, environmental impacts, potency and increased use among young people. A report funded by the National Institutes of Health found that young people used marijuana and some hallucinogens at record levels last year.
Pete Ireland, a 51-year-old project manager, voted in Frederick against legalization, calling the push “dumbing down the population.”
Federico Rodriguez said he was “kind of torn” on Question 4 as he entered the polling booth Tuesday in Silver Spring. He thought about his family members who had benefited from medical marijuana. He is concerned about safety and concerns about crime.
“Even as I cast my vote on the issue, I still had my doubts. So, I don’t think I’m the only one,” Rodriguez (51) said. He did not reveal his decision.
But Raymond Abbott, 61, knew exactly what he was going to do. He went to the polls on Tuesday for one reason, he said: to vote for Question 4.
For the other races, Abbott said, he entered his name.
Shwetha Surendran, Ian Duncan and Emily Seymour contributed to this report, which has been updated.
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