DEA Claims Federal Hemp Legalization Is Complicating Marijuana Enforcement

A marijuana legalization bill, backed by leading Maryland lawmakers, had its first hearing on Thursday. Much of the discussion has focused not on ending the ban, but on specific details on how to do it – including ways to merge the legislation with a separate proposal in the state’s House of Representatives.

While the Senate Finance Committee did not vote on the move, which is supported by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D), Majority Leader Nancy King (D), and key committee chairs, lawmakers used the meeting to discuss provisions of the legislation and assess the likelihood of his success.

“I wanted a little feedback from the committee,” said the law’s main sponsor, Senator Brian Feldman (D), who is also vice chairman of the panel that hosted the hearing. “I didn’t have a good idea of ​​where the committee is or what the committee’s concerns are.”

Under Feldman’s SB 708 Bill, adults 21 and older could purchase and own up to 4 ounces of marijuana or products containing up to 1,500 milligrams of THC. You could also grow up to six cannabis plants at home for personal use.

The bill is largely similar to Bill 32, which was proposed by Del late last year. Jazz Lewis (D) was introduced and revised last month to better align with Senate legislation. Although the two bills are now broadly similar, important differences remain when it comes to corporate licensing, social justice and other regulatory issues.

Feldman told Senate colleagues he worked with Lewis to harmonize the two measures. “Delegate Lewis drafted his bill, he had a hearing, and he has already changed his bill to be more like this bill,” said the senator. “For the same reason, I’m working on a package of changes myself to bring this bill a little closer to that of Delegate Lewis.”

Feldman added that he had not yet introduced these amendments because he wanted to include feedback from the committee. “If there is any will to postpone a bill at this meeting, I undertake to work with Delegate Lewis,” he said. “The differences are actually very small now, and I’m pretty confident that we can calculate.”

Most of the differences between the two bills relate to the licensing and regulatory processes. However, the House bill is the bill of choice among advocates of social and racial justice, including Del. Darryl Barnes (D), chairman of Maryland’s Black Caucus Legislature.

“The cannabis ban has devastated communities and was a tool of racial repression,” Barnes, who had spoken out against legalization in previous sessions, said in a statement earlier this week. “I was ready to endorse the Legalization Act after seeing how HB 32 would ensure black communities destroyed by the cannabis ban in the form of community reinvestment, small business ownership, job training, and more good careers as well as wiping out benefit from it. ”

Both bills would set up equity funds to help tackle the disproportionate effects of the drug war, unfairly enforced against black, brown, low-income people and other marginalized groups.

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“We’re talking about re-entry programs, scholarship assistance, money for HBCUs, housing benefits, home ownership, small business loans, community workforce development – that’s all on this bill,” Feldman said at Thursday’s hearing, claiming the proposal would ” deliver that. ” Strongest suite of social justice programs by any state in the nation. “

Under both bills, existing medical marijuana companies could pay a fee to enter the adult market. These fees – $ 1 million under House Legislation and $ 750,000 under Senate Bill – would fund a social equity startup fund that provides applicants with assistance and funding for applicants in the social equity space.

Both invoices would also give stock applicants an advantage in evaluating license applications, and they would restrict access to certain license categories such as transportation and delivery only to stock applicants.

However, where they diverge, HB 32 tends to prefer broader measures. For example, the bill would allow more money to flow into the newly created equity funds and create unlimited so-called micro-grow licenses to expand access to the new industry.

“Limiting licenses for micro-cultivation reduces the opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses and prevents social equity producers and retailers from knowing they can obtain a cultivation license,” the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) said in a post Compare the two bills. “This would put these new small businesses at a competitive disadvantage compared to the large, vertically integrated producers they would rely on for supply.”

HB 32 also includes a “Race to the Top” requirement that marijuana companies must demonstrate community benefits – in terms of diversity, labor practices, environmental stewardship and equity contributions – in order to expand across two locations. SB 708 does not contain this provision.

The House bill also includes a language requiring a cannabis company to sign a peace agreement with a union after hiring its 10th employee, while the Senate bill does not.

SB 708 would prohibit regulators from increasing the number of business licenses available until 2026. According to the House’s proposal, the supervisory authorities must take the demand into account and accept applications for new licenses from February 2024.

Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst for MPP, said in an email to Marijuana Moment that the group “is urging the amendment to SB 708 to reflect Delegate Jazz Lewis’ HB 32 and that lawmakers are quick to pass it”.

Lewis and a number of other legalization advocates have pointed to nearby Virginia, where lawmakers recently sent a legalization bill to the governor. “I applaud your commitment to further developing a sensible legalization law that includes social justice provisions,” he said. “Now is the time for Maryland to follow HB 32.”

The reform push is also picking up momentum in neighboring Washington DC, where Mayor Muriel Bowser, D and the district council chairman recently introduced competing legal marijuana laws.

Maryland legalized medical marijuana through law in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization bill went into effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession less than 10 grams with a fine of $ 100 to $ 500. Since then, however, some efforts to further reform marijuana have failed.

A bill to increase the decriminalization limit to one ounce last year was passed by parliament last year but never included in the senate.

In May, Governor Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a bill that would have protected people with low beliefs in cannabis from posting their records in a state database. In a vetoed statement, he said this was because lawmakers had not passed a separate non-cannabis measure to combat violent crime.

Hogan has been reluctant to take a strong stance on marijuana in the past, although more recently he has signaled openness to the idea. In 2017, he declined to respond to a question about whether voters should be able to decide on the issue. However, by mid-2018, he had signed a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana system, saying full legalization was worth considering: “At this point, I think it’s worth a look,” he said at the time.

As for lawmakers in Maryland, a House committee held hearings in 2019 on two bills that would have legalized marijuana. Although these proposals were not adopted, they encouraged many reluctant lawmakers to give serious thought to the change.

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