Recreational marijuana finds a home in Maryland
Saturday marked the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Maryland. It is one of 23 states to have legalized cannabis, and only time will tell how the new law impacts residents.
Maryland residents this past weekend were able to legally buy recreational marijuana for the first time, prompting statewide celebrations in honor of the historic day.
Or that was the case for some, at least. While the majority of Marylanders voted in favor of the measure in November, it’s a much more nuanced issue given the decades of opposition and propaganda that helped form public opinion.
“In the past, cannabis policy has been used as a cudgel to oppress, jail, and discriminate against our fellow citizens, especially people of color; and the war on drugs didn’t just fail, it made us weaker as a nation,” Gov. Wes Moore said in a statement last week.
“But now, we are writing a new chapter in the story of cannabis in America—a chapter focused on equity and economic growth. It’s time we moved away from this false choice that says we must pick an economy that is equitable or an economy that is growing—we can, and we will, do both.”
As of October, about 73% of Maryland residents supported legalizing “the use of cannabis” for people 21 years old and older as of October, according to a poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland.
That is relatively on par with the votes on the state referendum to legalize recreational marijuana in November, when 67.2% of residents voted in favor of legalization.
“Support for the idea is widespread, with majorities favoring it across regions, education levels, and racial, partisan and age groups. Legalizing marijuana is especially popular among young voters, with 87 percent of voters under 40 favoring legalization,” the poll states.
Along with various restrictions, the new law permits those ages 21 and older who have a government ID to buy, use, possess and grow limited quantities of marijuana.
Saturday marked the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Maryland. It is one of 23 states that have legalized the drug, two of which have laws that have not yet been enacted. Reuters has reported.
Legalization will roll out in Virginia next year and Minnesota in 2025.
Overall, recreational marijuana is overwhelmingly supported nationwide, although opinions still range from claims that the plant is a panacea to assertions that cannabis, also known as “devil’s lettuce,” is evil.
About 88% of U.S. adults say that marijuana should be legalized for both medical and recreational purposes, with public opinion largely dependent on age groups and political ideologies. according to a Pew Research Poll late last year.
The Long Haul is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
“There continues to be sizable age and partisan differences in Americans’ views about marijuana,” the poll states. “While very small shares of adults of any age are completely opposed to the legalization of the drug, older adults are far less likely than younger ones to favor legalizing it for recreational purposes.”
Regardless of age, though, support for marijuana legalization continues to rise exponentially despite the misguided and pernicious war on drugs.
In 2006, for example, 60% of adults were opposed to marijuana legalization. The percentage of those in opposition was reported to be as high as 84% in 1969, the earliest polling available by Pew.
Nowadays, though, with stories of states lining their pockets with marijuana money, the potential economic benefits are listed as just one of multiple reasons why it should be legalized.
"By establishing regulated adult-use cannabis markets, state and local governments are able to tax cannabis sales and benefit economically by creating thousands of new jobs,” the nonprofit Marijuana Policy Project states on its website. “In states with taxed and regulated cannabis markets, overall sales and tax revenue have quickly exceeded initial estimates.”
Others have cited decreases in crime in addition to the economic benefits, something that has been appealing to cities struggling with violent crime such as Baltimore.
Some health experts have also said it has the potential to combat the opioid epidemic as an alternative to pain medication.
There is, of course, much more research required to fully grasp the potential impact of legalization, whether it is positive or negative, as scientists have noted.
However, that has been made incredibly difficult because Schedule I drugs such as marijuana — even though it is not considered anywhere near as addictive as other drugs in the category such as heroin — are much more difficult to get the green light to study because of their classifications.
Still, one would need not look very hard to identify areas in which cities such as Baltimore are struggling and could potentially benefit from legalization.
As of Monday, there were 4,845 violent crimes committed in Baltimore in 2023 and 129 homicides, according to city data.
Most recently, an 18-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man were killed and 28 others were injured in a mass shooting this past weekend during a block party in South Baltimore.
Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic has evolved, with dangerous animal tranquilizers such as xylazine being mixed with heroin — more likely fentanyl — adding to the risks already posed by “scramble,” a drug cocktail that is well-known in Baltimore.
In 2020, the most recent year for which the state has complete data, there were 2,799 “Unintentional Drug- and Alcohol-Related Intoxication Deaths in Maryland, an 18% increase over the year prior.
With these problems plaguing cities nationwide, a fundamental question arises: If these issues are showing no signs of going away, why not give legalization a shot if it’s something other cities and states have reportedly tried with some success?
The goal should be harm reduction in this scenario. It’s unlikely legalization would have an immediate, revolutionary impact on society. In fact, the potential benefits could take decades to be realized.
But even if it takes longer than states hope, legalization offers a multifaceted approach to addressing societal issues, whether that be its potential impact on the economy or crime.
For one, legalization means that fewer individuals would be arrested for crimes related to marijuana, not only tackling over-incarceration but also freeing up police resources so departments can focus on more pressing issues in Baltimore and beyond.
It also brings more money into the local economy, something that could pique the interests of free-market fanatics who may not be the typical marijuana supporter.
And, finally, those struggling with addiction could find relief in marijuana.
Some people, for instance, may discover marijuana as an effective means of pain relief, decreasing their reliance on more dangerous, extremely addictive prescription drugs.
As it now stands, the impact of legalization in Maryland is unclear this early in the process. But recent polling sheds some light on how residents expect to be impacted.
In a poll conducted by Goucher College and The Baltimore Banner, 16% of respondents said they would be “more likely” to use recreational cannabis once it becomes legal in Maryland, with 76% saying it wouldn’t make a difference.
That 76% matches the same amount of people who reported never having smoked marijuana. Of those polled, 7% said they consumed marijuana in some form “almost every day or every day.”
Marijuana may not be the perfect solution to issues facing Baltimore and Maryland as a whole. In fact, it may very well have a minimal impact on residents’ day-to-day lives.
But amid a nationwide plague of violence and addiction in a society hyper-focused on capital, legalization could be a proper step forward in addressing those issues.
A plant may not create world peace, free those incarcerated on drug charges or fix the economy. But if it helps put society on a path any closer to those goals, there isn’t much of an argument to be made against it.