Maryland has legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. In 2014, medical marijuana became legal in the state following the enactment of House Bill 881. This bill established the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC), now the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA). In 2017, the state's Medical Cannabis Program was launched, and registered medical cannabis patients could purchase and use medical marijuana legally. There are regulations and procedures guiding the use of medical marijuana as provided by the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MAC). The MAC provides information regarding registration, inspection, licensing, and testing for the state's Medical cannabis program. It also makes available important information to registered entities such as patients, caregivers, providers, growers, dispensers, processors, and testing laboratories.
Currently, qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana in Maryland include seizures, cachexia, wasting syndrome, anorexia, severe or chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), glaucoma, severe or persistent muscle spasms, and severe nausea. An individual must be 18 years old, be a Maryland resident, and be diagnosed with at least one qualifying medical condition to be eligible for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Program. Patients who are minors (under 18) also qualify to enroll in the state's Medical Cannabis Program. However, they must have a designated caregiver, who can either be a parent or a legal guardian and must be at least 21 years old. Non-residents who are physically in the state on admission to a joint Commission-accredited medical facility may also participate in the program. This especially applies to patients who are being treated with medical cannabis at medical facilities during inpatient stays, but they must complete their treatments before discharge.
Under the Maryland Medical Cannabis Program, a minor patient can have up to four caregivers; two must be either parents or legal guardians, and the other two must be adults (21 years and above) appointed by a parent or guardian. These caregivers must register with the MAC before registering minor patients. Designated caregivers registered with MAC are legally permitted to buy marijuana from Maryland-licensed dispensaries on behalf of their patients.
To purchase medical cannabis from a licensed marijuana dispensary in Maryland, a registered cannabis patient must provide their medical marijuana card and a valid means of identification. Similarly, recreational consumers must have valid government-issued photo IDs in hand. Generally, IDs are required for adult-use customers to verify their age. Acceptable forms of identification documents by Maryland-licensed dispensaries include passport cards, driver's licenses, or any other forms of government-issued IDs.
Although Maryland legalized medical cannabis in 2014, the legal sale of medical marijuana products in the state did not commence until December 2017. Since then, the state's economy received a boost from the marijuana industry. According to the MCA FY 2021 Annual Report, as of July 2021, the agency had either licensed or preapproved 101 medical marijuana dispensaries, 21 medical marijuana growers, 5 independent testing laboratories, 26 medical marijuana processors, and over 25 secure transport, delivery, security guard, and waste disposal companies. This provided several direct and indirect jobs in the local economy. In the FY 2021 Annual Report, the MCA reported over 139,000 registered patients and 7,000 caregivers registered in the Maryland Medical Cannabis Program.
While licensed medical dispensaries in Maryland generated massive sales of marijuana products between 2017 and 2023, medical cannabis sales were not subject to sales and use tax. For instance, in 2019, over $241 million worth of cannabis products were sold, and in 2020, it was $466 million. Furthermore, licensed dispensaries in the sale made over $500m in medical cannabis sales in 2022. Between January and June 2023, the MCA reported over $241 million in dispensary retail sales of medical cannabis. These reports revealed that legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis, which is taxable, would have a positive impact on Maryland's economy.
Before the legalization of recreational cannabis, the MCA's major funding sources were patient registration fees and business licensing. It did not receive tax, nor did it receive funds from the State's General Funds. The money received from registration and licensing fees funds the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Compassionate Use Fund, which the Commission administers. The total income generated from licensing fees, agent ID card fees, patient ID card fees, and interest/fines in 2019, 2020, and 2021 were $10,371,437, $10,867,624, and $11,785,235, respectively. According to the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Association, Beacon Economics conducted an analysis that shows that the medical marijuana industry has created more than 4,000 jobs in Maryland. It was estimated that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Industry has contributed over $580 million to Maryland's economy by September 2019.
The legal sale of recreational marijuana began in July 2023 following the legalization of adult-use cannabis earlier in the year. In the first month of legal recreational marijuana sale, Marylanders spent over $87 on cannabis products, and a chuck of this amount was for adult-use cannabis. In December 2023, total retail sales of marijuana in the state were over $96 million, and recreational cannabis accounted for $61 million. The 9% sale and use tax levied on the sale of recreational marijuana in Maryland is one that is generating good revenue, and it is contributing greatly to the state's economy. According to Cannabis Public Policy Consulting, adult-use marijuana sales will reach over $240 million per month and about $1 billion in total cumulative sales 20 months after the first legal adult-use cannabis sale. This portends a further positive impact on Maryland's economy.
To promote the participation of diverse groups in the medical marijuana industry, MCA welcomes minority businesses, small business owners, and women-owned businesses. The goal is to make known to all that gender, ethnicity, or race is not a barrier to entering the state's cannabis industry. This helps to promote variety in owners, leadership roles, and investors and, ultimately, boosts the state's economy.
The crime data collated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for marijuana-related arrests between 2015 and 2022 shows a decline in the marijuana crime rate in Maryland. In 2015, law enforcement agencies made 13,961 arrests for illegal cannabis possession and 2,309 for marijuana sales offenses. Although medical cannabis was already legalized in Maryland in 2014, the sale was illegal until 2017. In 2016, the year before the legal sale of medical cannabis commenced, a total of 15,746 marijuana possession arrests were made and 2,607 for illegal cannabis sales. While the number of arrests made for sale offenses (2,054) slightly reduced in 2017 compared to the previous year, the number of arrests effected for unauthorized possession of cannabis (16,528) increased.
In 2018, a year following the commencement of medical cannabis sales, law enforcement agencies in Maryland made 2,224 illegal cannabis possession arrests and 2,248 for sales offenses. However, beginning in 2019, the marijuana crime rate in Maryland started declining. For instance, in that year, the number of arrests made for cannabis possession fell to 15,052, while those of unauthorized sale declined to 1,907. According to reports by the FBI, the number of marijuana-related arrests in the state further reduced in 2020. There were 1,125 arrests made for illegal weed sales, while 9,884 were made for marijuana possession.
Although the legal sale of recreational cannabis in Maryland did not begin until mid-2023, the state's marijuana crime rate was already reduced drastically compared to the pre-medical cannabis legalization period. In 2021, only 705 arrests were made for marijuana sales offenses and 4,629 for marijuana possession. Maryland recorded an all-time low in marijuana-related crimes, with 638 arrests made for unlawful weed sales and 3,470 for illegal possession of cannabis. While the FBI has yet to publish Maryland's crime data for 2023, the chances of having a lower number of arrests for marijuana offenses in the state are high. It is obvious that the Maryland marijuana crime rate has been lessened due to the legalization of cannabis.
The Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA) issues medical cannabis cards to qualifying patients whose health care provider (also registered with MCA) recommends the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for approved medical conditions. An eligible patient can be anyone aged 18 years or older or minors (under 18) with qualifying debilitation conditions. They must be permanent residents of Maryland and will need to register with MCA and obtain a written certification from a healthcare provider with whom there is an established patient-healthcare provider relationship. After getting the certificate, the patient can complete the application for a medical marijuana card with the MCA.
In Maryland, a healthcare provider can be a state-licensed physician, dentist, midwife, podiatrist, or nurse. They must register on the MCA registry portal before they can certify qualifying patients. Qualifying medical conditions for which a patient can access medical marijuana legally in the state include seizures, cachexia, anorexia, wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe nausea, severe or persistent muscle spasms, and glaucoma.
Registered caregivers aged 21 years and above designated by qualified patients can obtain Maryland medical marijuana ID Cards from the MCA. Generally, parents or legal guardians of minors are mandated to serve as caregivers for their wards under the Maryland Medical Cannabis Program. They must enroll on the MMCC portal before registering the minor patients. In Maryland, a minor who is a medical cannabis patient can have up to four caregivers, two of whom must be their parents or legal guardians, and the other two must be recommended by the patient’s parent or legal guardian.
The Maryland General Assembly approved the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission in October 2013 in memory of Delegate Cheryl D. Glenn's mother, who passed away from kidney cancer at the age of 87 years. In May 2015, the Commission was renamed 'The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.' This was later renamed the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA).
The Commission implements and manages the program for the compassionate medical use of cannabis (marijuana) in Maryland. Initially, it was supposed to ask academic medical centers for recommendations on how to run compassionate use programs for medical cannabis. But in 2014, legislation made it possible to make medical cannabis accessible to people other than those taking part in research studies at university medical centers. A system for certifying healthcare professionals, including doctors, podiatrists, dentists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, was subsequently established by the Commission. Qualifying patients and their caregivers are also given written certifications.
The MCA licenses growers, processors, dispensaries, and testing laboratories to provide quality medical marijuana to medical marijuana patients. Medical cannabis has been available to patients in Maryland since December 2017. Qualifying patients who received written certifications from their certifying physicians can purchase and use medical cannabis legally. Only cannabis dispensaries licensed by the MCA are permitted to sell cannabis to qualified patients.
Furthermore, in 2013, lawmakers in Maryland voted to decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of marijuana. It became a civil offense, like a traffic offense, punishable with a fine of $100 without a criminal record or jail time. Similarly, the Maryland General Assembly decriminalized the possession of cannabis paraphernalia and public consumption of marijuana, and both acts were made civil offenses punishable by a $500 fine.
In April 2022, the Maryland General Assembly passed House Bill 1 to allow the state’s voters to decide on the legalization of recreational marijuana. The ballot initiative called Question 4, which would go on to amend the Maryland Constitution to permit the recreational use of cannabis, was placed on the ballot during the November 2022 General Election. At the election, voters approved a referendum, with nearly 67% of Marylanders favoring adult-use cannabis legalization in Maryland on or after July 1, 2023. In April 2023, the state’s General Assembly passed the Cannabis Reform Act (SB 516/HB 556) to permit marijuana sales to adults aged 21 years or older. It was subsequently forwarded to the Governor for assent. The bill also created the legal framework for recreational marijuana sales in Maryland.
On May 3, 2023, Maryland Governor Wes Moore ratified the Cannabis Reform Act, hence creating a legal framework for the state’s recreational marijuana industry. Following the enactment of the Act, the Maryland Cannabis Administration, a successor agency to the MMCC, was established. By July 1, 2023, the legal sale of adult-use cannabis began in the state for individuals aged 21 years or older.
Cultivation of marijuana in the United States, the early 17th century.