By BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland voters are deciding whether to legalize recreational marijuana in a constitutional amendment Tuesday.
Lawmakers already approved legislation this year to take steps to implement recreational marijuana with voter approval, but the General Assembly left matters of licensing and taxes for lawmakers to decide next year.
The constitutional amendment defines that recreational marijuana would not be legal until July 2023 for people 21 and over, subject to a requirement that the General Assembly pass legislation regarding distribution, regulation and taxation of cannabis.
Some supporters said they believed the state would benefit from the tax revenue cannabis sales will generate, while other said they consider it to be less damaging than alcohol.
“Being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I can tell you alcohol is a lot worse than marijuana, without a doubt,” said Mike Penn, 53, after voting for the constitutional amendment in Annapolis.
But opponents said they thought legalizing recreational cannabis went too far.
“These kids start at one thing, and they go to the next and the next,” said George Pozgar, 79, of Annapolis.
A law enacted earlier this year includes provisions spelling out a transitional period between Jan. 1 and July 1. For example, starting Jan. 1 and continuing through June 30, possession of the personal use amount, which is defined as up to 1.5 ounces, is a civil offense. Violators would be subject to a maximum fine of $100. On July 1, possession of up to 1.5 ounces, or up to two cannabis plants, would be legal for someone over 21.
Possession of a personal use amount by someone younger than 21 is a civil offense effective July 1, with a $100 fine.
Effective Jan. 1, possession of more than 1.5 ounces but less than 2.5 ounces – regardless of age – is a civil offense with a maximum fine of $250. A person who possesses more 2.5 ounces us guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months of imprisonment and or a $1,000 maximum fine.
The law also makes changes in criminal law. For example, starting Jan. 1, the law authorizes a person incarcerated for a conviction related to cannabis to apply to the court for resentencing, and the court must grant the application and resentence the person to time served. If the person is not serving another sentence, the person must be released from incarceration.
In addition, beginning on Jan. 1, a person who is convicted of possession of cannabis may file a petition for expungement of the conviction after the satisfactory completion of the sentence, including probation. That’s instead of the current waiting period of the later of four years after the conviction or the satisfactory completion of the sentence.
A person who is convicted of possession with the intent to distribute cannabis may file a petition for expungement of the conviction three years after satisfaction of the sentence or sentences imposed for all convictions for which expungement is requested, including parole, probation, or mandatory supervision.
By July 1, 2024, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services must expunge all cases in which the possession of cannabis is the only charge in the case and the charge was issued before July 1, 2023.
Currently, 19 states, along with the District of Columbia, have fully legalized marijuana. There are also 37 states, including Maryland, that have legalized medical marijuana. Maryland currently has about 150,000 registered cannabis patients.
Voters are also deciding other ballot questions in Maryland.
One would change the names of the state’s appellate courts. Maryland’s highest court — the Court of Appeals — would be renamed the Supreme Court of Maryland. The state’s intermediate appellate court — the Court of Special Appeals — would be renamed the Maryland Appellate Court.
Another proposed change would add on to the residency requirement for someone to run for the state legislature: A candidate would have to make their place of residence in the district he or she is running in their “primary place of abode” for six months. That would eliminate the option of renting a residence in the district as a second home to qualify.
Voters are also deciding whether to raise the threshold for a right to a circuit court jury trial in civil proceedings to be at least $25,000, instead of $15,000.
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