Bills intended to lift prohibition against cannabis were introduced in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly last week.
If passed, the legislation will open the door for medical and recreational use of marijuana by certain age groups, allow for limited cultivation, alter the allowable quantity threshold and generate the automatic expungement of past cannabis possession and cultivation convictions.
“I’m adamantly opposed to the legalization of marijuana,” Calvert County Commissioners’ President Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R) said, pointing to the alleged corruption of the Mexican drug cartel and embattled leader Jaoquin “El Chapo” Guzman. “Marijuana is one of their chief crops.”
Sen. William C. Smith Jr. and Del. Eric Luedtke, both Democrats from Montgomery County, introduced companion legislation in their respective chambers that would make cannabis legal for adults age 21 and older; substitute the term “cannabis” for the term “marijuana” in certain provisions of law; and establish a Cannabis Regulation Division in the Office of the Comptroller to create a system for regulating and taxing cannabis for adult use.
Hutchins said proponents will argue that if it is legalized, it can be better controlled, but he disagrees.
“You’re not going to be able to separate what is grown and what is criminally sold,” Calvert’s board president said.
Hutchins looks to the the Department of State’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and said a third of the 40 people on the terror watch list were tied to drug traffickers. “You got to follow the money in the drug business,” he said.
Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) filed a constitutional amendment that would allow those 21 and older to use cannabis, possess up to 1 ounce, cultivate up to six cannabis plants and share a certain amount of cannabis. The proposed amendment is worded not to prohibit or conflict with certain employment policies or to authorize certain driving conduct.
According to a Feb. 6 news release from the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition, nine states have enacted laws regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use. Vermont and Washington, D.C., enacted laws making marijuana possession and cultivation legal for adults, and are now considering proposals to regulate commercial production and sale.
Hutchins, a former superintendent of the Maryland State Police, said marijuana is a schedule 1 class narcotic and that “regardless of what someone does in the next state over, Maryland should hold its ground.”
The former House delegate has grave concerns about legalizing marijuana, recalling the testimony of doctors warning of the ills of marijuana, when he sat on the House Judiciary Committee’s special committee for drug and alcohol abuse. He also warns that marijuana is readily subject to have other drugs mixed in with it, such as synthetic drug PCP, which he said is often sprayed on marijuana.
“We’re trying to deal with a major [opioid] epidemic killing more people than automobile accidents — to then open it even wider,” Hutchins said.
Charles County government has been actively preparing for the state’s shifting tide on marijuana, especially medical marijuana.
“We have been, and the county in general has been, welcoming of medical cannabis,” Marcia Keeth, deputy director for Charles County’s Department of Economic Development, said.
Keeth said Charles was one of the first counties to add medical marijuana to land use maps to determine in which zones the industry could take place, with limitations, and that from the beginning, the county has treated the growing of it as an agricultural use.
Charles County currently has three dispensaries and one processing plant, but there are no growers in Charles, nor in Southern Maryland.
“We would very much love to have a grower in Southern Maryland — we’d be real happy to have one in Charles,” Keeth said.
Keeth would not speculate on the impact of a change in law allowing for recreational marijuana use, leaving the policy making to the county commissioners.
“Our job is to implement policy,” Keeth said.
Calvert’s economic development department declined to comment at this time on the impact of marijuana.
In preparation for changes in state policy on medical marijuana, in October 2017, Calvert’s Department of Planning and Zoning staff presented to the former board of commissioners what other jurisdictions were doing to regulate medical marijuana, provided examples of cannabis-related zoning in neighboring counties, and showed how marijuana industry professionals would be classified under the county’s current zoning regulations. However, no definitive decision was made by the commissioners on how to proceed forward on regulations for marijuana facilities.
Since then, the county has opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Solomons. When asked if the current board would proceed with updating regulations to reflect marijuana businesses in Calvert, Hutchins said “we’re wrestling with zoning with respect to the comprehensive plan” and that the four other board members have to weigh in, as well.
St. Mary’s County Commissioner John O’Connor (R), a first-class private with the Seat Pleasant Police Department, said in an interview, “I’m not an advocate of the full legalization of marijuana. I think that we have a long way to go. Our criminal justice system is already having a hard enough time adapting to the current changes, and we need to take some time to ... see what the long-term effects are going to be.”
O’Connor proposed a state bill in December on behalf of Charlie Mattingly, owner of medical dispensary Southern Maryland Relief in Mechanicsville, to reduce the age of cannabis growers from 21 to 18, as Mattingly sought to establish a growing facility in St. Mary’s, but the bill did not gain the support of the St. Mary’s board of commissioners.
“I’m not opposed to the industry on that aspect. It’s very well regulated, well secured. ... There’s a process in place that has been thoroughly vetted,” O’Connor said.
As far as what a rollout of recreational cannabis would look like in St. Mary’s, O’Connor said it’s “not something we’ve even looked at” as a board.
Calls and emails to St. Mary’s County Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) and Charles County Commissioners Reuben Collins (D) and Gilbert Bowling (D) were unreturned at press time.
Smith, an officer in the Navy Reserve, will deploy to Afghanistan in March before the legislative session ends.
Staff writer Taylor DeVille contributed to this report.