Asian woman picks up a Cannabis product presented by an employee while in shop.


Maryland House Panel Approves Bill Regulating Cannabis

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

March 6, 2023

A Maryland House of Delegates legislative committee last week voted to approve a bill to regulate commercial cannabis production and sales in the state. The measure,

, was advanced by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 2 by a vote of 16-5. A is pending in the Maryland legislature’s upper chamber.

In November,

recreational marijuana with the passage of Question 4, a state referendum that was approved with nearly two-thirds of the vote. House Bill 556 sets the stage for legalization to take effect, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to two cannabis plants at home, beginning on July 1. 

The legislation also establishes a regulatory framework to govern commercial cannabis production and sales. Before the committee vote, Del. C.T. Wilson, the House sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, said that a primary goal of the legislation is to create an equitable cannabis industry in Maryland.

“As I’ve said more than a couple times, I’m not here to create a cash cow for the state or just a marketplace for the intoxicants; I’m here to make sure we stop young folks from being arrested and dying because of this substance,”

. “We’re here to try to regulate this so we can have safe usage, but basically get rid of the black market.”

Under the legislation, a new regulation and enforcement division would be created within the state’s existing Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which would be renamed the Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission. The legislation includes provisions to regulate cannabis production and sales and sets a 6% tax on recreational marijuana purchases. 

The bill establishes different classes of licenses based on the

size, including standard licenses for businesses producing or retailing large amounts of cannabis for market. The legislation includes provisions for standard licenses for up to 300 cannabis dispensaries, 100 processors and 75 cultivators. The bill also includes 400 micro licenses for small businesses, including 200 dispensaries, 100 growers and 100 processors. Additionally, up to 50 licenses for on-site are authorized by the bill.

Maryland Cannabis Bill Has Strong Social Equity Provisions

To help promote equity in the cannabis industry and ownership by those negatively affected by marijuana prohibition, the first licenses awarded in Maryland will be reserved for social equity applicants. To qualify, an applicant must have at least 65% ownership by an individual who lived in a “disproportionately impacted area” for five of the last 10 years or attended a public school in such an area.

The bill also creates a new Office of Social Equity in the cannabis division to promote participation by “people from communities that have previously been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs,” Wilson told his colleagues.

Before Thursday’s vote by the committee, Del. Darryl Barnes asked Wilson how the bill would ensure minority participation in the cannabis industry, noting the lack of diversity in the state’s medical marijuana industry.

“I know this is a huge undertaking and a heavy lift, and I just want to make sure that we get it right,” said Del. Darryl Barnes “Looking at the lessons learned when we did medical cannabis … we issued 15 licenses – and all 15 of those went to white men. So, how are we ensuring that we are talking about equity and inclusion and getting more minorities to participate in another billion-dollar industry coming before the state of Maryland?”

Wilson replied that the social equity provisions in the legislation are focused on people who live in areas that were disproportionately targeted in the War on Drugs, noting that provisions based specifically on race would not survive legal challenges.

“We define ‘social equity’ … by zip code for all intents and purposes. If you lived in a zip code that had a 175% arrests for cannabis use, we would consider those ‘social equity areas.’ So, again, we have to be race neutral, but you know where I’m coming from. You know who was arrested more likely than not because of cannabis use. Not saying we use it all the time, but we sure get targeted for arrest.”

Before voting to advance House Bill 556, the House Economic Matters Committee approved several minor amendments to the bill, including provisions to economic the current medical marijuana industry into the regulatory plan. The amendments create discrepancies in the House and Senate versions of the bill which must be reconciled before a final version is approved by both chambers. 

Senate President Bill Ferguson said earlier this year that he believes the legislation “has the possibility of being a national model” for cannabis regulation.

“It’s a complex topic. There’s a lot of different pieces. No state has gotten it right,”

. “And so what I do believe we’ve done effectively here is put us on the best path possible.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Wes Moore said earlier this year that the governor views House Bill 556 as “a well-crafted piece of legislation and is looking forward to future collaboration with the legislature.”

A.J. Herrington

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A.J. Herrington