Maryland lawmakers who are part of a marijuana legalization workgroup convened on Tuesday, hearing testimony on workplace and impaired driving policy issues related to the reform.
Members of the Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup—which was formed last year by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D)—took testimony from representatives of the non-profit National Safety Council (NSC).
The witnesses advised the panel on a number of issues as lawmakers work to inform future regulations following Maryland voters’ approval of a legalization referendum during last month’s election, which triggered the implementation of complementary legislation covering rules for basic policies like possession and low-level home cultivation.
The focus of this latest meeting was on drug testing policy for workers and drivers.
“Throughout this entire process, all of us here have given thoughts and raised concerns about how legalizing recreational cannabis will impact employees in the workplace, how employers could enact or adjust policies when it comes to employment protections for off-duty cannabis cannabis use and how government bodies could legislate laws to appropriately respond to and address this issue and any related concerns,” Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who sponsored both the referendum bill as well as a complementary implementation measure and serves as the chair of the workgroup, said at the beginning of the meeting.
NCS takes a neutral position on marijuana legalization and decriminalization issues, and the conversation generally reflected the organization’s interest in supporting evidence-based practices for states that move ahead with the reform.
Jane Terry, vice president of government affairs at NCS, said that it’s likely a matter of time before every state in the U.S. has “some type of legalization” or cannabis is legalized at the federal level. Lawmakers should take steps to prepare for that inevitability, she said.
“What we really want to drive home is that it is impairing when you use it, and it’s going to have safety impacts,” she said. “So how can we really try to mitigate those impacts?”
The Cannabis Legalization and Referendum Workgroup continues its work tonight with a presentation from @NSCsafety on the crossroads of workplace policies, laws, and safety and cannabis legalization.
View the live stream/recording here: https://t.co/lMaUhiyGmo
— Luke Clippinger (@LukeClippinger) December 21, 2022
One of the group’s main takeaways is that it’s difficult for employers and law enforcement to determine active impairment from THC, as current tests detect metabolites from the cannabinoid that can remain present in a person’s system for weeks after consumption.
Dave Madaras, president of the Chesapeake Region Safety Council, echoed several of Terry’s points, emphasizing to the lawmakers that a person could use cannabis off-duty in compliance with the state’s new law on Friday and “then Monday morning, I could take a drug test, and I can come up positive—but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m impaired. Actually, I’m probably not impaired at all.”
The witnesses also went over a number of policy recommendations for legislators to consider. Notably, they argued against states setting “per se” THC limits for driving impairment because “it’s not based on science, and it’s not necessarily showing impairment.”
At the workgroup’s prior meeting last month, members talked about how to tax cannabis and distribute revenue.
Maryland House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D), who has also served as a member of the legislative workgroup, said in October that he would be voting in favor of legalization at the ballot, and he emphasized that the vote would be “the beginning of the conversation.” It has since been announced that Luedtke will be joining the administration of Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D).
The language of the ballot referendum itself was straightforward, but where the more complex aspects of the reform come into play is with the complementary HB 837.
Under that legislation, the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis will be legal for adults. The legislation also will remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults 21 and older will be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.
Past convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law will be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses will be eligible for resentencing. The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute can petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.
Even though voters have passed the referendum, the reform won’t take effect immediately. Possession of small amounts of cannabis will become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, punishable by a $100 fine for up to 1.5 ounces, or $250 for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces. Legalization for up to 1.5 ounces won’t kick in for another six months.
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Advocates have taken issue with that protracted timeline. Having possession legalization take effect sooner was among several asks they made that were not incorporated into the legislation. They also wanted lawmakers to include a provision preventing police from using the odor of marijuana alone as the basis for a search.
Adult-use legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature in the 2021 session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last year on a legalization bill, which followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal.
Maryland legalized medical cannabis through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana with a civil fine of $100 to $500.
Meanwhile, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) separately allowed a bill to create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury to take effect without his signature this year.
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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.