A majority of Maryland voters say they will support a referendum to legalize marijuana that will appear on the November ballot—and even more believe that the state should expunge prior cannabis convictions if the reform is enacted, according to a new poll.
The survey from Goucher College described the legalization question that was placed on the ballot by an act of the legislature earlier this year and then asked respondents whether they would vote for or against the measure.
Among likely voters, 59 percent said they’d vote to approve the reform, while 34 percent said they’d vote against it and 7 percent said they remain undecided.
Support was strongest among Democrats (70 percent) and independents (53 percent). A majority of Republicans (53 percent) said they’d vote against legalization at the ballot, however, while 42 percent of GOP voters said they’d check the box to pass it.
A majority of each age group surveyed said they’d vote to pass the referendum, including those 18-34 (76 percent), 35-55 (58 percent) and 55+ (51 percent).
The pollster followed up by asking people to weigh in on expungements, regardless of their views toward the legalization referendum itself.
Specifically, the survey asked whether respondents feel that the state should “expunge the records of those charged or convicted of marijuana use and/or possession crime” if voters approve ending prohibition at the ballot.
A sizable 62 percent of likely voters said that the state should facilitate such expungements under those circumstances, compared to 29 percent who said those records should not be cleared.
Again, a majority of Democrats and independents favor providing relief, at 72 and 64 percent, respectively. A minority of Republicans (41 percent) said the same, while a slim majority (50 percent) say the state should not expunge marijuana convictions post-legalization. A majority of every age group also said they favor expungements.
The Goucher College Poll, which was cosponsored by The Baltimore Banner and WYPR, involved interviews with 1,008 Maryland residents, including 748 likely voters, from September 8-12. The margin of error for the results with likely voters is +/-3.6 percentage points.
While support is lower for the referendum is lower compared to a 2021 survey that asked about overall support for the general concept of legalization, that could have something to do with the specificity of the new, ballot-focused question.
If voters pass the legalization referendum, it would trigger the implementation of another bill providing regulations for an adult-use market that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) allowed to take effect without his signature. And that legislation does include expungements provisions.
Maryland elections officials recently finalized the language of the basic cannabis referendum and issued a formal summary. Here’s the text of the measure, designated as Question 4, that will go before voters:
“Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the State of Maryland?”
Under the complementary law that would be enacted if voters approve legalization, the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be legal for adults. The legislation also would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults 21 and older would be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.
Past convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law would be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses would be eligible for resentencing. The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute could petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.
The legalization bill was amended throughout the legislative process. For example, language was attached to create a community reinvestment fund and allow state tax deductions for certain cannabis-related expenses that marijuana businesses are barred from claiming under current federal tax code.
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If voters pass the referendum question, the reform wouldn’t take effect immediately. Possession of small amounts of cannabis would become a civil offense on January 1, 2023, punishable by a $100 fine for up to 1.5 ounces, or $250 for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces. Legalization for up to 1.5 ounces wouldn’t kick in for another six months.
Advocates took issue with that protracted timeline. Having possession legalization take effect sooner was among several asks they made that were not incorporated into the legislation. For example, activists also wanted lawmakers to include a provision preventing police from using the odor of marijuana alone as the basis for a search.
Meanwhile, Maryland activists recently launched a statewide campaign to urge voters to pass a marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot.
The MDCAN 22 “Vote Yes On 4” campaign, which is being led by former NFL player Eugene Monroe, announced the new push earlier this month, promoting a new website and video ad with information about the reform proposal.
Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who sponsored both the ballot question and implementation legislation, also served as the chair of the Maryland House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which met regularly to take initial steps to prepare to pass marijuana legislation.
The panel, formed by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D), discussed licensing and regulatory issues at its meetings, with members hearing expert testimony on the current marijuana policy landscape to help inform their approach in the future.
Clippinger said at one meeting that it was important for members to “prioritize equity in our efforts and ensure that we were recognizing and addressing the impact the war on cannabis has inflicted, particularly on brown and Black communities.”
Adult-use legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature in the 2021 session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last year on a legalization bill, which followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal.
Maryland legalized medical marijuana through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams with a civil fine of $100 to $500.
Meanwhile, the governor separately allowed a bill to create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury to take effect without his signature this year.
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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.