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Maryland Legislators Ponder Revisions to Cannabis Legalization Law Ahead of 2024 Session

Maryland Cannabis Industry Update 2023

Less than two months old, Maryland's budding cannabis industry is already making waves, prompting legislators and regulators to prepare for adjustments in the upcoming General Assembly session. Since its launch in July, the recreational adult-use sector has raked in a substantial $90 million in sales, a figure expected to swell beyond the $1 billion mark.

In the words of Will Tilburg, the acting director of the Maryland Cannabis Administration, the recent legislation—a sprawling document of about 100 pages—was crafted as an endeavor to glean insights from the experiences of other states that had previously legalized recreational marijuana. "There’s nothing we’ve seen that is raising alarms that needs to be fixed," Tilburg asserted. "I think everybody, the governor’s office, Cannabis Administration, ATCC [Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission], and the legislators are evaluating everything to see if there’s stuff."

William Tilburg, Executive Director Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission
William Tilburg

Tilburg, along with Senate Finance Committee Chair Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), addressed local leaders at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference, acknowledging that some adjustments are inevitable once the legislative body reconvenes in less than five months. "I mean, alcohol was legalized 90 years ago with the repeal of prohibition," remarked Tilburg, drawing a parallel. "Every year, there’s a few hundred bills related to the alcohol industry. So, we do expect that this year in the 2024 session and moving forward, we will see additional legislation to tweak this industry."

Griffith concurred, emphasizing that the notion of a perfectly resolved cannabis framework was unrealistic. "I don’t think there’s any possibility we get through the ’24 session without some tweaking on the cannabis," Griffith said. "This is not going to be ‘We fixed it and we’ve solved all the issues and we’ll never have a bill on this subject again.'"

Senator Melony G. Griffith
Senator Melony G. Griffith

While Tilburg and Griffith couldn't provide immediate specifics, it's anticipated that the state will soon launch a new round of licenses aimed at promoting diversity among license holders in the rapidly expanding industry. However, Maryland has previously struggled with fostering inclusive participation, as the first round of licenses in the medical cannabis sector resulted in lawsuits due to a lack of minority-owned licenses.

As the industry evolves, law enforcement also faces challenges in enforcing impaired driving laws without a roadside test analogous to breathalyzers for alcohol. The absence of a definitive test for cannabis intoxication is a hurdle, and new limitations on searches based solely on the scent of cannabis have complicated efforts to intercept illegal firearms.

Maj. Zachary O’Lare, the Prince George’s County Police Department operations commander, noted that these changes are hampering efforts to interdict illegal guns. Around 40 percent of handgun violation arrests in 2022 were connected to searches triggered by the odor of cannabis, according to O’Lare.

Despite these uncertainties, the focus is turning to identifying impaired drivers as a strategy to increase firearm seizures in Prince George’s County. The question of whether the legislature will address contentious issues related to cannabis-related searches is still open-ended.

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), the Chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, expressed reservations about an inundation of cannabis-related bills in the next session. "I will be doing one bill on cannabis," he clarified, suggesting that a comprehensive understanding of the industry's nuances is yet to be achieved. However, the possibility of an "omnibus bill" remains on the horizon.

As debates unfold, Griffith acknowledged that enforcement and other intricate issues could take center stage. "I do think that where he [Wilson] and I and our committees can come together and reach consensus, if we can get one bill that takes all that into consideration that would be ideal," Griffith stated. She also recognized that broader considerations within the General Assembly's tax and judiciary committees might further complicate the pursuit of an omnibus bill. "And I’ve never seen a bill assigned to three committees," she observed.