As Maryland speeds toward full legalization of recreational cannabis this summer, one of the many outstanding concerns for supporters and opponents alike is what will happen for drivers who consume it and then get behind the wheel.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs — including cannabis — will still be illegal under any bill Maryland lawmakers are considering this year.
But unlike alcohol, there is no established test for determining the exact levels of cannabis use, and such technology may be years from being a reality.
While the larger recreational cannabis industry-creating bill (House Bill 556/Senate Bill 516) is taking up most of lawmakers’ time on the issue right now, one proposed pilot program would start allowing police to test drivers who they believe are impaired specifically by cannabis.
The pilot would let police certified as “drug recognition experts” ask a driver complete the test, which is defined only as “a device that is capable of assessing cognitive and physical impairment of motorists,” according to Senate Bill 676.
The device, manufactured by Cognivue, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015 to test patients for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Drivers would not be required to take the test, and any results could not be used as evidence, nor in court, nor to help the officer determine whether to investigate further or file charges.
Those who consent would participate in a 5-minute self-test on a plastic device the size of a small briefcase that administers cognitive exercises. The goal is to measure the brain’s “processing speed” and “executive function,” said Kristin Weber, the director of strategic accounts at Cognivue.
Weber told a Senate committee Wednesday that while the devices are being tested on cannabis users in labs, it’s important to test them on the road, as well, to see if they are practical for police to use in the field.
The bill is sponsored by Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Vice Chair Jeff Waldstreicher, a Montgomery County Democrat. He said if the tests prove successful, this could be “a huge step toward modernizing our state’s drugged driving policy.”
“With adult-use recreational cannabis on the horizon, we must act now to ensure safety on Maryland’s roads,” Waldstreicher explained.
If passed before the General Assembly’s annual 90-day session ends April 10, the law for the pilot would go into effect Oct. 1, and a division of the Maryland State Police would have to develop a report on the program by Dec. 1, 2025.
Earlier this session, Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, introduced Senate Bill 51 to protect drivers who may not be under the influence of cannabis, but may have it in their vehicle. That bill has yet to be voted out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Impaired driving after consuming cannabis popped up earlier Wednesday, too, as lawmakers in the House discussed the more comprehensive recreational cannabis bill for the first time as a chamber.
The plan would create a framework to get a recreational cannabis industry up and running before July 1, when it will become legal to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis.
Del. Mike Griffith, a Harford County Republican, proposed an amendment to strike out the initial plans for what the bill calls “on-site consumption establishments” — essentially, Griffith said, “weed bar[s].”
Griffith said he had concerns about individuals driving after consuming cannabis at such establishments, especially with technology to determine cannabis consumption during traffic stops being “years away.”
“There is no way, no way that we can accurately determine someone’s sobriety level with marijuana,” said Griffith, a former military police officer who said he pulled over many drivers under the influence in his career. “This creates a clear pathway to allow people to consume marijuana and drive — not to allow, but to enable. I know it’s not the intent, but that’s what it’s going to do.”
Del. Brian Crosby, a St. Mary’s County Democrat, responded that the actual licensing and creation of the on-site consumption establishments wouldn’t happen until a second round of recreational cannabis licenses goes out later next year and lawmakers could make changes before then, if needed.
Griffith’s amendment was one of a half-dozen Republican-sponsored amendments that failed in the chamber, which is controlled by supermajority of Democrats.
Those amendments would have mostly added language to make some protections explicit that Democrats said would continue to exist under the current legislation — such as the ability for employers to test and make their own rules around cannabis consumption during the workday, and for homeowners’ associations to implement rules around smoking cannabis on their properties.
House Economic Matters Committee Chairman C.T. Wilson, a Charles County Democrat who helped craft the bill, said the suggested additions were unnecessary and duplicative of existing laws. Though some of those measures were included in an initial draft of the cannabis bill, Wilson said it was reworked to become a more narrow licensing bill.
Maryland Policy & Politics
It still “does not change the employee-employer relationship” or add “onerous” requirements about, for example, where dispensaries can be located in communities, he said.
As he’s said on several occasions in the process so far, Wilson said his goal in creating the potentially $2 billion industry is “not to get Marylanders high, but to get rid and eliminate the illicit drug markets — stop young men from dying and going to jail for cannabis.”
Under the bill, licenses for recreational cannabis dispensaries, processors and growers would begin operating before July 1 by allowing existing medical cannabis businesses to convert their licenses. A round of new licenses for “social equity applicants” — people who live in or went to school in an area disproportionally impacted by previous cannabis criminalization — would go out later, followed by more licenses with fewer qualifying requirements.
The bill would allow for standard licenses for up to 300 dispensaries, 100 processors and 75 growers. Smaller “micro” operations would be afforded additional licenses for 200 dispensaries, 100 processors and 100 growers.
The House Economic Matters Committee held a lengthy hearing on the plan last month and passed it out of the committee along party lines last week. Amendments included changes to the tax revenue distribution for counties and municipalities, and tweaks around the provisions designed to promote equity in the industry, which would largely be determined later by an Office of Social Equity created under the bill.
After the discussion and other rejected amendments on the House floor Wednesday, Democrats in the majority are expected to soon pass the bill and send it to the Senate.
Lawmakers in both chambers began with the same hefty 88-page plan last month. With a hearing on the bill scheduled Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee, senators are expected to make other changes and then negotiate with the House on a final version.