Progress Made to Establish Community Repair and Reinvestment Fund
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Two bills to legalize marijuana have passed both chambers of the General Assembly. HB 1 puts the issue on the ballot this November and the HB 837 does some positive things:
- Reduces the waiting period to expunge simple possession of marijuana to one year and, by July 1, 2024, requires all records where simple possession was the only charge to be automatically expunged.
- Opportunity for people to have their records expunged for possession with intent to distribute after 3 years.
- Increase in an allowed personal amount from 10 grams to 1.5 ounces.
- Allow for homegrow for up to 2 plants per household.
- Establish of Community Repair and Reinvestment fund, which will bring tax revenues from the industry directly to communities impacted by the “war on drugs”.
There is more work to be done, because some important elements are not included in HB 837:
- Does not allow for more expansive vacatur and expungement opportunities needed to repair harm to individual Marylanders.
- Keeps criminal penalties for possession over the civil use amount and for possession with intent to distribute (PWID), which given Maryland’s history will be enforced in a racially biased way.
- Does not address 4th amendment violations caused by the use of odor searches, which gives police an excuse to racially profile and search Marylanders.
- Does not establish and regulate the cannabis industry (this legislature says it will address this in the 2023 session).
- Also, adds a prohibition to the state’s open container law that no occupant of the car is allowed to smoke marijuana, which could ultimately contribute to more race-based traffic stops and searches.
The Community Reinvestment and Repair Fund will bring resources back to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs when the industry is established. This is a very important victory. Going forward, we need to increase the percentage of the proceeds from taxes on Maryland’s new legal market that go to repair the harm in the communities targeted for biased enforcement for decades.
With passage of this bill, the biggest concern is the criminal penalties for possession above the civil use amount and for possession with intent to distribute. Additionally, the final bill fails to prohibit police from conducting warrantless searches of a person’s car solely based on the odor of marijuana. Black people will get hit hard with these given the way that Black people are disproportionately stopped and charged with marijuana related charges now. In fact, even though Black people and white people use marijuana at the same rates, 70% of people charged with cannabis related charges in MD are Black.
Senator Jill P. Carter put an amendment on the floor to take out the criminal penalties, but the amendment was rejected, including by many senators who support a legal market. This is disturbing, and something that the many groups who care about centering race equity in Maryland’s marijuana legalization are going to call attention to and that our elected leaders must address.
It is important to remember that Marylanders support these elements that center racial justice in marijuana legalization. In a recent poll commissioned by the national ACLU, expanding legislation to include measures to protect citizens and address the impact of drug enforcement policies has the potential to strengthen support further. This includes the 65% of voters more likely to support legalization if it includes stopping the practice by police of using the odor of marijuana as the only probable cause or justification to perform a warrantless search; 13% say this has no impact on their support. Nearly a third of voters, 32%, who do not currently support legalization say this makes them more likely to do so.