marijuana legalization

In just the past few weeks both jurisdictions have made significant advances in marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana. Even more importantly, there is good reason to be optimistic they could adopt full legalization in the near future.

While Congress has done almost nothing positive about the issue, the local District of Columbia government and neighboring Maryland have turned the capitol region into a surprisingly promising front for marijuana reform. In just the past few weeks both jurisdictions have made significant advances in marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana. Even more importantly, there is good reason to be optimistic they could adopt full legalization in the near future.

Marijuana Decriminalization

Just last week the mayor of D.C. signed one of the best marijuana decriminalization bills in the country. It would make possession of less than an ounce only a $25 fine.  It now must wait out the 60 day Congressional review period before finally becoming law.

Similarly, this Monday the Maryland legislature gave approval to a bill decriminalizing up to 10 grams and the governor promises to sign it. While not as good as D.C.’s, it is still be a big improvement.

Medical Marijuana Reform

D.C. and Maryland both technically have medical marijuana laws already, but the rules governing them are restrictive. In D.C. only a few hundred patients are part of their medical marijuana program because it only applies to a small number of qualified conditions. The situation in Maryland is even worse. Maryland has medical marijuana in name only. The current rules are so restrictive the person in charge of the program thinks it may never get off the ground.

This should soon change though. On Monday the Maryland legislature adopted HB 881, which would create a medical marijuana system where patients could actually get access. And just one day later the members of the D.C. Council unanimously introduced a bill to remove the “qualified condition” restriction from their law leaving this medical decision up to patients’ doctors. This should significantly increase the number of patients being helped. Since it has unanimous support on the council, its eventual passage is effectively assured.

Real Hope for Legalization in the Near Future

Maryland and D.C. aren’t just catching up with some of the more supportive parts of the country — there are also some very promising signs the mid-Atlantic could soon move into the lead.

Of the two, D.C. is the most promising. The DCMJ campaign is currently working to get an initiative on the November ballot that would legalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for adults as wells as allowing home growing in the district. It wouldn’t legalize marijuana sales — only because adding such a provision might have run afoul of the rules governing initiatives. But if the voters approved this ballot measure there is a strong chance the council would respond by writing rules regulating and taxing its sale. Muriel Bowser, the Democratic nominee for mayor who is strongly favored to win the general election, thinks the district needs to move towards making marijuana purchases legal for adults.

Maryland could also see serious legalization efforts in 2015 depending on the outcome of the Democratic primary. One of the three candidates is State Del. Heather Mizeur, who has made legalization a big part of her campaign and promised to push for it in 2015 if elected. While she is behind in the polls at the moment there are still two months until the primary.

At the very least her campaign has pushed both of her Democratic opponents to take more open-minded positions on the marijuana. While Lt. Gov Anthony Brown and AG Douglas Gansler both still oppose legalization at this time, Brown wants to see how the experiment goes in Washington and Colorado and Gansler believes it will be inevitable in the future.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy