Maryland’s cannabis industry is less than two months old and lawmakers and regulators are already contemplating tweaks in the coming General Assembly session.
Since July, the new recreational adult use industry has recorded sales of almost $90 million. The expectation is that sales will surpass $1 billion.
Will Tilburg, acting director of the Maryland Cannabis Administration, said the new law — which runs roughly 100 pages — was an attempt to learn from the mistakes of other states that legalized recreational use before Maryland.
“There’s nothing we’ve seen that is raising alarms that needs to be fixed,” said Tilburg. “I think everybody, the governor’s office, Cannabis Administration, ATCC (Alcohol, Tobacco and Cannabis Commission), and the legislators are evaluating everything to see if there’s stuff. ”
But Tilburg and Senate Finance Committee Chair Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s) told local leaders at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference that some tweaks are likely when the legislature returns to Annapolis in less than five months.
Tilburg called the new law “comprehensive” but added that “it’s not perfect.”
“I mean, alcohol was legalized 90 years ago with the repeal of prohibition,” said Tilburg. “Every year, there’s a few hundred bills related to the alcohol industry. So, we do expect that this year in the 2024 session and moving forward, we will see additional legislation to tweak this industry.”
“I don’t think there’s any possibility we get through the ’24 session without some tweaking on the cannabis,” Griffith said. “This is not going to be ‘We fixed it and we’ve solved all the issues and we’ll never have a bill on this subject again.’”
Speaking to Maryland Matters, neither Tilburg nor Griffith could immediately offer specifics.
This fall, the state is expected to roll out its first tranche of licenses aimed at bringing racially diverse licensees into the burgeoning industry.
Historically, the state has faced difficulties in finding ways to ensure diverse participation. A first round of licenses in the medical cannabis industry resulted in lawsuits after no minority owners were awarded licenses.
Additionally, law enforcement continues to look for ways to enforce driving under the influence laws in the absence of a roadside test that can determine intoxication in the way that standard breath tests are used in cases involving alcohol.
New restrictions barring searches based on the smell of cannabis are hampering the interdiction of illegal guns, according to Maj. Zachary O’Lare, Prince George’s County Police Department operations commander.
Gun seizures in Prince George’s County are down 49% since July 1. Prince George’s County Police Department Maj. Zachary O’Lare attributed the decline to a new law that prohibits searches based on the odor of cannabis. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.
In 2022, the Prince George’s County Police Department reported 1,237 handgun violation arrests. Roughly 40% of those were tied to searches in which the odor of cannabis was the probable cause for the search, O’Lare said.
O’Lare said in the six weeks since cannabis was legalized, illegal gun seizures are down 49%.
Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough said his department is seeing similar decreases.
In Prince George’s County, O’Lare said the hope is a focus on identifying impaired drivers will increase gun seizures.
Whether or not the legislature takes up the controversial issue of cannabis-related searches remains to be seen.
House Economic Matters Chair Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) told members of the Maryland Municipal League that he doesn’t expect to consider a lot of cannabis bills in the next session.
“I will be doing one bill on cannabis,” he said. “So please don’t come with all these amazing ideas because it hasn’t gelled yet. We don’t know what’s broken. We’re not going to know by January.”
Wilson, however, left open the door for “an omnibus bill.”
But Griffith acknowledged that enforcement and other nuanced issues could be on the table.
“I do think that where he (Wilson) and I and our committees can come together and reach consensus, if we can get one bill that takes all that into consideration that would be ideal,” said Griffith.
But, she noted, there may also be issues that require consideration of the General Assembly’s tax and judiciary committees as well, complicating consideration of an omnibus bill. “And I’ve never seen a bill assigned to three committees,” she said.
By Bryan P. Sears