Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition Releases General Assembly Voter Guide, Grades Candidates' Marijuana Policy Positions Ahead of June Primary
The Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition released a General Assembly voter guide that documents and grades candidates' positions on cannabis policy. The release comes exactly two weeks before early voting begins in the 2018 primary election (June 14).
The General Assembly voter guide is based on a questionnaire that was sent to the 550 official House and Senate candidates contending in the June 26 primary. Candidates were asked for their positions on regulating and taxing cannabis for adult use and home cultivation, as well as for comments on the controversial implementation of the state's medical cannabis program. The guide also notes whether candidates have previously co-sponsored bills to legalize and regulate cannabis for adults or refer the question to voters. Legislation that would have allowed voters to decide was debated in the General Assembly this year, but it did not receive a vote.
"Marylanders do not get to vote on legalization this year, but they do get to weigh in on the legislators who declined to put it on the ballot," said Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This is their chance to send a message to current and future lawmakers that legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis for adult use should be a priority for lawmakers next year. Most people recognize cannabis prohibition has been a costly failure and they want to know where their candidates stand.”
Sixty-four percent of likely Maryland voters support making cannabis legal for adults, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted in September 2016.
Advocates also expressed concern at the large number of candidates who have not responded to the questionnaire, which was sent out over a month ago. More than three out of four candidates have not responded yet, including more than 125 incumbents.
"Maryland's cannabis policy affects everyone in the state, and it is receiving a significant amount of debate in the General Assembly," Bell said. "Many voters care deeply about this issue, and they deserve to know where the candidates stand on it. It is disappointing to see so many candidates are still not on the record on cannabis policy, and we are encouraging voters in their districts to contact them directly to get them on the record."
On Tuesday afternoon, the D.C. Council voted to permanently ban any social consumption of marijuana other than inside a private residence, despite a public forum being scheduled that evening to explore the merits of continuing the ban.
Among the concerns voiced by activists is that the ban forces people who live in public housing, where consuming marijuana can lead to eviction, to break the law by smoking in public. This policy predominantly impacts poor people of color in the District, and many residents think that allowing social use clubs would go a long way toward addressing this issue. There may be options to overturn the ban, however.
Numerous people brought up the racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests, which continues even in the era of decriminalization and legalization—81.9 percent of the 259 public consumption arrests from July 17, 2014 (when public consumption became a criminal offense) to the end of 2015 were of black people, according to data from the Drug Policy Alliance.
Kate Bell, an attorney for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the ban isn't the end of the road. "There are other avenues D.C. could explore," she told DCist. "We're not just talking about clubs. It's a much broader issue."
Nikolas Schiller of DCMJ has already written a draft referendum on the ban. But it's an open question whether the referendum, if passed, could be implemented given the Congressional rider that hamstrings the city's ability to regulate drug legalization. Bell says that MPP is working to ensure that the rider doesn't appear in next year's Congressional budget.
Residents can express their views at the ballot box. Information on registering to vote is available here, and if you are already registered you can update your information online here. Stay tuned: MPP will be publishing a voter guide before the June 14 primary election. Note that if you want to vote in a party’s primary election, you must be registered as a member of that party at least 30 days before the primary election.
Also, the Local Budget Autonomy Act may allow the District to tax and regulate marijuana using its own local funds this winter, after the new fiscal year begins. In addition, it is always possible for the mayor to use reserve funds to tax and regulate marijuana.
Finally, MPP will be attending the National Cannabis Festival on Saturday; stop by our booth and say hello if you are there.