5 things to know about adult-use cannabis legalization in Maryland | Turn 420
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5 things to know about adult-use cannabis legalization in Maryland

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Maryland voters just passed a ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis. Here’s what you need to know.

Can I buy or grow recreational cannabis now?

No, not legally, and yes, soon, maybe. Maryland voters decided to legalize adult-use cannabis, but it will take months — and possibly years — to set up an industry and regulatory framework. The General Assembly’s next session begins in January. A big question is whether the existing medical cannabis market will be able to participate in the adult-use market. That might mean recreational cannabis sales as early as this summer, but there are concerns around diversity and equity, safety and other regulatory issues that might not be resolved this upcoming session. That could push the industry’s launch to mid-2024 or even later.

However, any adult aged 21 or older can legally grow up to two cannabis plants at home starting July 1. According to Justin Tepe, a lawyer at Goodell DeVries, households will be restricted to four total plants, which must be grown securely and out of public view. Buying seeds legally could be tricky, Tepe said, especially if lawmakers struggle to hammer out regulatory questions. The legality of seeds — and how to buy them — might be unclear, he said.

Who will get to participate in this new industry?

That’s the billion dollar question. The medical cannabis industry in Maryland hit about $600 million in revenue last year. A fully legal market is expected to be even bigger. But lawmakers must first decide how many business licenses to issue, what kinds of licenses to issue, and how to license those issues.

Should a minority business owner with limited capital get a micro-grow license? Should there be an unlimited number of licenses to ensure anyone can enter the market? Should an out-of-state corporation be limited in the number of licenses it can own to prevent consolidation? Should lawmakers use the licensing process to create a diverse industry? Lawmakers have to answer these questions, and the answers could have huge financial implications for existing businesses and newcomers.

What will happen to possession laws surrounding cannabis?

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It is still illegal to buy and sell recreational cannabis. Tepe said starting in January the laws on cannabis possession for personal use will be loosened and penalties will be lowered, but the legislature is expected to take further action during the session as it sets the rules for an adult-use industry. It also will be easier to get criminal records related to cannabis expunged through a streamlined process, Tepe said.

What about other hemp-derived cannabinoids, like Delta-8?

Right now, any adult 21 and older can go to a vape shop, CBD outlet or even a gas station or convenience stores and buy products that contain a variety of cannabinoids, including some that have psychoactive effects. One such product is commonly called Delta-8 THC. It is part of a largely unregulated and fast-growing industry that is legal thanks to a loophole in a 2018 federal law about hemp production. Some retailers now sell products with hemp-derived Delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis sold at medical dispensaries.

Maryland lawmakers considered banning some of these hemp-derived products in the 2022 session, but opted to study the issue instead. They are expected to revisit the issue this upcoming session.

Will there be unintended consequences?

Some anti-legalization proponents say yes, and lawmakers are expected to discuss those possibilities in the 2023 legislative session. According to Tepe, a public health advisory council will be established Jan. 1 and lawmakers are expected to receive a study March 1 that explores topics like the use of cannabis by different age groups and pregnant women, incidents of impaired driving, cannabis use disorder and much more.

Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said he expects there will be increased use by children and more trips to emergency rooms for cannabis-related reasons. While some pro-legalization advocates say a legal market will tamp down any black or gray markets, Sabet said legalization will only fuel an illegal market. There will be more cannabis available, he said, and an illegal market can undercut the legal industry, where consumers have to pay taxes for their cannabis.

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