In less than 30 days the state of Maryland will complete its transition from a jurisdiction that until 10 years ago imposed harsh penalties on both dealers and users of cannabis, legally a Schedule 1 narcotic comparable to heroin, ecstasy and LSD based on the United States government’s classification of the substance. In fact, despite cannabis becoming recreationally legal in days, it continues to be illegal everywhere in the U.S. under federal law which defines Schedule 1 drugs as drugs as having no currently recognized medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Despite the conflict between federal and state laws defining its legality, Maryland has joined 37 other states and the District of Columbia to legalize cannabis, motivated by record revenue generated from astronomical profits. To further capitalize on its partnership in the legal weed business, the state of Maryland imposes a 9% tax on retail sales, 150% higher than basic statewide sales tax of 6%.
As an example of what Annapolis is banking on, in the five years since the first medical dispensary opened in Maryland, the industry has gone from zero profits to 100 dispensaries pulling in a record $510 million in sales in 2022. MJBizDaily, a U.S. and Canada-based cannabis industry publication is reporting our states prospects this way: “Voters in Maryland approved the 20th adult-use market, one that is projected to generate as much as $600 million in its first year  and up to $1 billion by year four .”
Although legal medical weed is tremendously profitable, the exorbitant cost to open a dispensary in Maryland is certainly a major reason why there are only seven Black cannabis dispensary owners of record in the state; none in Baltimore. The application fee totals $11,000, three-thousand dollars for stage 1 of the process, and eight-thousand dollars for stage 2, plus a $165,000 licensing fee paid annually. Compare this cost with a Maryland license to sell retail alcoholic packaged goods where the total is less than $1,000 including the annual fee.
Moreover, according to JustTaxes blog: “Most of the states that allowed cannabis sales last year (2021) raised more revenue from cannabis excise taxes than from alcohol excise taxes and profits (in the case of state-run liquor stores). In total, cannabis revenues outperformed alcohol by 20 percent by this measure. In 2021, the 11 states that allowed legal sales within their borders raised nearly $3 billion in cannabis excise tax revenue, an increase of 33 percent compared to a year earlier.”
With a mandate from 66% of Maryland voters in their pockets, it is clear that legislators in Annapolis followed the money where the decision to ignore existing federal law still declaring cannabis as a dangerous narcotic is concerned, as did the governor when it was time to sign bills HB556/SB516 into law, authorizing the possession or use of cannabis for individuals who are age 21 years or older.
Marylanders are witnessing the birth of a bureaucracy in real time as the state builds a complex administrative apparatus from scratch to manage a brand new multi-billion-dollar legal cannabis industry growing at a rapid pace. The office that was originally established to oversee medical cannabis dispensaries barely five years ago with a staff of approximately twelve has morphed into a management team of more than one hundred to administer both medicinal and recreational pot. Its mission is described this way on their website, https://mmcc.maryland.gov/Pages/home.aspx :
“The Maryland Cannabis Administration (formerly Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission) was established in 2014 to develop policies, procedures, and regulations to implement the medical cannabis program and ensure medical cannabis is available to qualifying patients in a safe and effective manner. In 2023, the Administration became an independent agency, that now oversees all licensing, registration, inspection, and testing measures pertaining to Maryland’s medical and adult-use cannabis industry and provides relevant program information to patients, adult consumers, providers, growers, processors, dispensaries, independent testing laboratories, and ancillary businesses.”
Yet despite all the talk of equity and parity for people of color who have so far been excluded from the lucrative opportunities in legal cannabis that is making quick millionaires of white entrepreneurs, opportunities continue to be talked about.
However, while everyone is anxious, positively and negatively, about the rollout of legal recreational weed next month, July 1, a media push has begun to try to mitigate the possibility of increased driving-under-influence (DUI) instances due to the celebration of lawful marijuana coinciding with the 4th of July weekend, notorious for annual uptick in intoxicant-related auto accidents and fatalities.
Maryland State Police recently conducted tests with legal-use volunteers who were under the influence of cannabis with expected results: drugging and driving don’t mix. Reefer responsibly. They’ll be watching for you.