What legalization of cannabis means for Maryland's criminal justice system

Marylanders voted last month to allow the legalization of cannabis for adult use, making the state the 22nd jurisdiction and the last state in the DMV area to do so.

The legislation, which goes into full effect on July 1, 2023, allows the possession and sale of cannabis products up to one ounce for anyone 21 or older and will mean the expungement of cannabis-related records for thousands of people.

"It is a huge step forward for the criminal justice system," said Del. David Moon, who served on the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Work Group as chair of its criminal justice impacts subcommittee. Charging people for cannabis possession, he said, was "really messing with people's lives for many non-violent events, and you're creating criminal records that impact their student loan eligibility, their eligibility for federal benefits, for some employments, for some housing. I could go on and on."

While it's not clear how many people currently have a cannabis possession charge on their record, approximately 15,000 people in Maryland were arrested for cannabis-related charges between 2018 and 2020, according to data from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a cannabis advocacy group. By July 2024, charges in the state of Maryland will be automatically cleared for anyone whose record only includes simple possession. For those currently incarcerated, the legislation now allows for resentencing and release.

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