Maryland’s HB32 and Ballot Initiative: A Needed and Ethical Nod Toward Equity in 2021

Legislation to make marijuana fully legal in the state of Maryland is stalled out as Maryland’s sate congress is out of session, delaying approval of HB 32: The Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, Inclusion, Restoration, and Rehabilitation Act of 2021. Introduced and championed by Delegate Jazz Lewis during the 2021 session, HB32 has a strong social justice component. According to the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition, the bill makes legal “the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis for adults,” and “includes expungement and release for past cannabis offenses.” 

It also “establishes a social equity program to promote participation in the legal cannabis industry from minorities and those hardest hit by the war on cannabis, and distributes the bulk of tax revenue collected from legal cannabis sales to Maryland’s HBCUs, to provide start-up funding and training for social equity businesses, and to serve communities impacted by poverty, mass incarceration, and racism.” 

Maryland Delegate Jazz Lewis, sponsor of HB 32 Source:

HB32 will also establish a newly independent Alcohol and Tobacco Commission which will be charged with regulating the new adult-use cannabis market and “will issue six types of cannabis licenses: retailers, cultivation facilities, product manufacturers, transporters, delivery services, and laboratories.” 

Lewis has stated, “This bill ends Maryland’s failed policy of cannabis prohibition and replaces it with a system to test and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older,” adding that the legislation “takes marijuana production and sales off the streets and ensures regulated, labeled, lab-tested products while creating thousands of new good jobs, businesses and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue to serve the community.” 

Lewis feels strongly about the racial component, stating, “Let’s be clear: 30 percent of Maryland is Black. We need to put our money where our mouth is.” Vice Chair Vanessa Atterbeary (D) echoed this ethos, saying, “I personally would not support anything that did not have some protections for Black people being able to participate in this industry.” 

And Rajani Gudlavalleti, a member of the executive leadership team at the Baltimore Harm Control Coalition, has stated. “Our vision for a healthier world requires a model of cannabis legalization that includes strategies for repair from the impacts of the drug war in communities of color, and so that is why Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition supports HB 32.”

However, not everyone is on board. Del. Mike Griffith (R), worries that legalizing THC-infused edibles would lead to increased use among youth warning. “My six year old would see an edible candy bar, wouldn’t know the difference, and would go to town.” 

But the biggest obstacle may be getting Maryland Senate approval. In fact, it appears that there is a movement to turn the fate of marijuana legalization over to the voters through a ballot measure. According to, “. . . the legislature will turn to the voters on the issue of cannabis policy reform by placing a marijuana legalization measure on the statewide ballot next year.

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said in a statement on Friday that she would establish a legislative work group in the fall to begin studying the issues surrounding cannabis legalization. “While I have personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” Jones said in a statement. “The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to State law now.”

And Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson seems to be in full support, pointing out that, “Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational cannabis, Maryland must do the same, and a large majority of Marylanders in both political parties support an equitable framework that immediately addresses the injustices in our current criminal justice system.”



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