Maryland voters are expected to overwhelmingly support a ballot measure this November that would legalize adult-use cannabis, but a political group isn’t leaving anything to chance.
MD Can ‘22 is a political committee formed in May to advocate for the passage of the adult-use cannabis ballot question. It is bankrolled almost entirely by a $50,000 donation from Trulieve, a cannabis company with dispensaries in eight states, including three in Maryland — in Halethorpe, Timonium and Rockville.
The group recently created a website and social media accounts. Voters in Maryland support adult-use cannabis legalization by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a Goucher College poll conducted earlier this year, but Eugene Monroe is concerned that not everyone knows it will be on the ballot.
Monroe, a former Baltimore Raven-turned cannabis investor, is the chairperson of MD Can ‘22 and a medical cannabis patient in Maryland. He said he recently went to a dispensary and asked the people working there about the upcoming ballot question.
“They were surprised,” Monroe said. “They were excited for it once they learned about it, but they weren’t fully aware of cannabis being on the ballot. So I believe that’s an issue.”
If passed, the measure legalizes possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and allows people 21 and older to grow two plants at home. The measure also would allow expungements for those who were arrested for marijuana possession, and potentially allow those serving time for possession to seek sentence reductions.
The state lags its neighbors to the south in legalizing recreational use of cannabis. Washington legalized it in 2014 and Virginia in 2021.
While the bill to create the referendum easily passed both the Senate and House of Delegates, there were reservations, even among lawmakers who voted for it. For instance, Del. Jon Cardin, a Democrat from Baltimore County, voted to hold the referendum, but also raised concerns in a February committee meeting about the health impacts of long-term cannabis usage and drivers who might be high on cannabis.
“It’s really hard to de-legalize something. It’s much easier to hold off on making it legal,” Cardin said. “We don’t yet have the technology to determine whether somebody is driving while intoxicated with THC [the psychoactive component of cannabis.]”
It does not appear that any political committee has been formed to oppose the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Maryland this year. Mike Gimbel isn’t surprised about the lack of opposition. Gimbel, a self-described former heroin user who has been sober for nearly 50 years, has been speaking out against drug use of all kinds for decades in Maryland, though he recently moved to Florida. Most opponents to legalizing cannabis have given up, he said, either because of the money and influence of the cannabis industry or because they know it’s a losing battle.
“I’ve been the only one to speak out,” Gimbel said. “And this particular issue upsets me so much because people are voting with their own memories of what marijuana was like when they were growing up, whether it was high school or college.”
Cannabis grown today is often far more potent than what Baby Boomers grew up smoking, Gimbel said, and he fears the effects it can have on drivers, workplace safety and motivation.
“It’s not the same pot that we used to grow in our bedrooms when I was in high school,” he said.
Since 2000, Maryland voters have approved 27 of 28 ballot measures in statewide elections, rejecting only one in 2010 on whether the state should hold a convention to consider amendments to its constitution, according to Ballotpedia. The constitution question is automatically placed on the ballot every 20 years under a provision in Maryland’s constitution.
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If voters legalize recreational use cannabis this November, it could be years before an adult can walk into a dispensary and buy cannabis without a medical card. That’s because much of the regulatory framework is still being hammered out.
Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill legalizing medical cannabis in 2013, but it took years for regulations to be written and the industry didn’t get off the ground until 2017. None of the initial licenses to grow cannabis went to Black-owned businesses, leading to backlash and another round of licenses awarded. Now, states across the country have flourishing cannabis industries, and new, largely unregulated hemp-derived products are competing with Maryland’s medical cannabis industry, which hit $600 million in revenue last year and appears to reaching maturity.
Monroe said he expects there to be pressure on state leaders from the existing medical cannabis industry to set up a recreational marketplace, but a showing of overwhelming support by voters could spur lawmakers to act quickly.
“Just barely passing I don’t think will be enough to really set pace for what should be regulations and an industry and all of the social justice initiatives that need to happen,” Monroe said. “This should be a landslide win in the state.”
When asked whether he thinks more cannabis companies or advocates are going to support the campaign in addition to Trulieve and MD Can ‘22, Monroe said he hopes so.
“I hope we can really effectively communicate the need for this,” he said. “It’s important to be involved here.”
The deadline to register to vote online in Maryland is Oct. 18. Marylanders can register to vote by going to elections.maryland.gov.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the voter registration deadline in Maryland. Marylanders can register to vote until election day, November 8. Online registration ends October 18. The Sun regrets the error.