By: Lucy Garcia
November is a month that has been burned into the heads of politicians and United States citizens alike for one particular reason: Voting. In November of 2022, Maryland residents voted on things like the renaming of the Courts of Appeal and Howard County’s Orphan Court. However, there was one specific question on the ballot that the U.S. has been debating for a long while: the legalization of marijuana.
The topic of the Marijuana Legalization Amendment was question number 4 on the November Maryland ballot. A simple “yes” supported legalizing marijuana for adults 21 or older beginning in July 2023, as well as “directing the Maryland State Legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of marijuana.” When the final votes were counted, 32.8% voted no, approximately 635,572 people, while 67.2% voted yes, approximately 1,302,161 people.
Despite the legalization of marijuana being approved, there are still rules applied to the possession of cannabis. Starting July 1st of 2023, personal possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana will be allowed for those 21 and older. Possession above 1.5 ounces but lower than 2.5 ounces may be punishable by a $250 fine. Anything above 2.5 can be punishable to up to 6 months in jail or a fine of 1,000 dollars. Smoking marijuana in public may be punishable by up to $250, but smoking in the comfort of your own home is perfectly legal. Adults may grow or possess up to 2 cannabis plants out of the public eye, nevertheless, selling marijuana without a license is still against the law and punishable by up to 3 years in jail, or a fine up to $5,000.
But with all these rules and regulations, the question still remains. What actually is marijuana?
According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, cannabis, more commonly known as marijuana, weed, or pot, is a cannabinoid drug that’s made from the dry flowers of Cannabis Sativa. The most common ways to use or consume marijuana include smoking, vaporization, and eating.
While the effects of cannabis depend on the amount taken, the responses of cannabis may include but are not excluded to: feelings of euphoria and/or relaxation, increased appetite, increased laughter, increased sociability, and dry mouth.
However, just like any other drug, weed can become risky depending on how much is used and in what manner. Some long term effects could include a dependency on marijuana, building tolerance to marijuana, and in some cases, reduced cognitive thinking. If cannabis is being smoked, other effects may be sore throat, bronchitis, asthma, and if smoked with tobacco, cancer.
The argument that marijuana should be legal in the US is one that has been around since the drug was first used. It has been the topic of many debates, as well as one of the anchors for President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, where he assured his voters that it was an issue he planned to solve if elected into office, and that is precisely what he did.
In October of 2022, President Biden announced that he would begin the process of pardoning those convicted of simple marijuana possession offenses under federal law and DC statute.
This announcement, made about one month before midterm elections, was the beginning of 3 steps that President Biden plans on taking to end the “failed approach” of marijuana in the United States. Firstly, President Biden plans on pardoning those who have been arrested due to cannabis ownership.
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Expressed President Biden in a statement from the White House regarding the marijuana reform.
The second step that President Biden is taking is encouraging state governors to follow in his footsteps. President Biden urges them to do the same by pardoning marijuana offenses on a state level.
“Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” President Biden explained.
This plan will ultimately end up pardoning around 6,500 people who have been convicted between 1992 and 2021, as shown in data collected by the US Sentencing Commission. Even though the majority, if not all of these people are not currently in federal prison, these pardons still have the ability to help with restrictions placed due to the stain on their criminal records. These obstacles could range from public benefits, opportunities for education, employment barriers, and, in some states, even voting rights.
The incarceration rate for marijuana users, like many other incarceration rates, is skewed toward people of color. Despite the rates of marijuana use between POC and white people being akin, the average arrest rate for POC is significantly higher.
“And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.” Stated President Biden.
In a study done in 2020 by the American Civil Liberties Union, it is shown that in the state of Maryland, Black people are 2.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people, compared to the national average of 3.64. With these pardons, Black, brown, Latino/Latina, and indigenous lives will cease to be upended by rates for “conduct that many states no longer prohibit.”
The third and final step that President Biden plans on taking is asking both the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the review of how marijuana is viewed under federal law. Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug in the Controlled Substances Act. This is the same level that heroin and LSD are classified as, as well as higher than fentanyl and methamphetamine, despite these substances being substantially more dangerous and addictive.
“We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense,” President Biden concluded.
Regardless of the changes happening around marijuana for those over 21, rules, regulations, and laws for minor marijuana use stay the same.
But now that Maryland voters passed the referendum, a new companion bill is being sent out regarding the logistics of the regulation process, specific timing, and marijuana’s use in the medical field. There are sure to be announcements with more details about this new bill later in 2023. Due to the taxation and distribution of marijuana still being up in the air, it is unlikely that dispensaries will be selling products anytime soon in the next 7 months. But for now, it’s time to sit back and watch the bud-ding act grow.
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Headline photo caption:
Photo by Business Insider, “States where cannabis is legal,” Nov 9 2022