Expert says ‘it’s just strange’ how far behind Maryland is on legalizing recreational marijuana

FILE - A mature marijuana plant flowers under artificial lights prior to harvest at Loving Kindness Farms in Los Angeles on May 8, 2020. Leading California cannabis companies Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, warned Gov. Gavin Newsom that the state's legal industry was on the verge of collapse and needed immediate tax cuts and a rapid expansion of retail outlets to steady the marketplace. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)(AP/Richard Vogel)

As is the case every year, Maryland lawmakers have limited time to get a lot of legislation passed.

The session that started Wednesday will wrap up 90 days from when the gavels first fell, and in that time they’ll be approving new legislative districts and passing a budget, actions that will provide no shortage of partisan bickering and squabbles over spending.

This also appears to be the year that lawmakers will pass some sort of legislation to legalize recreational use of marijuana. To this point, the governor hasn’t given much indication what he would do with such a bill, but there doesn’t seem to be much consensus yet on how Democrats in the legislature will come together on legalization either.

“Maryland is so far behind the curve on this issue,” said Todd Eberly, a political-science professor and coordinator of Public Policy Studies at St. Mary’s College. “It’s just strange how far behind the curve” the state is.

It’s likely that lawmakers will mostly be haggling over what the bill is going to look like. Some, including House Speaker Adrianne Jones, want the issue to be put to a voter referendum this November. Others hope to make it legal by the summer.

“We have had polling on this issue for years in Maryland,” noted Eberly. “Overwhelmingly the voters are ‘yay’ on legalization.”

“So I think this desire to have a referendum is yet more delay in something that is so inevitable. At some point it is going to be legal in the state of Maryland. We’re just really dragging our feet about making it happen.”

Lawmakers are also in the position of going into the year with a budget surplus to work with. Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed a series of tax cuts, but Eberly says it’s unlikely Democrats in the legislature will take the governor up on that.

“Tax cuts tend to be popular, especially when they’re targeted to certain populations,” Eberly said. “It’s easier to talk about tax cuts when you do have a rather substantial surplus going into this,” which makes some degree of cuts possible in his eyes.

“But at the same time Democrats have made pretty tremendous commitments to education funding in the state going forward,” Eberly said. “The omicron surge and COVID is taxing Maryland’s health care infrastructure pretty substantially so I think there will be a desire to use the money for some of that. And then there will probably be a desire for some short term relief for folks who are affected economically by COVID.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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