Cannabis in Maryland

In the U.S. state of Maryland, the recreational use of marijuana (cannabis) is illegal. However, since 2014, the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana has been decriminalized. In 2012, a state law was enacted to establish a state-regulated medical marijuana program. The program, however, is not yet operational.

Prohibition and decriminalization

In 2010, Maryland had the fifth-highest overall arrest rate for marijuana possession in the United States, with 409 arrest per 100,000 residents. (The national rate is 256 per 100,000 people).[1] In that year, marijuana arrests made up 49.9% of all drug-possession arrests in the state.[2] In Maryland, blacks were 2.9 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.[3]

In April 2014, Governor Martin O'Malley signed a law that decriminalizes the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana. The measure made such possession a civil infraction, similar to a traffic ticket. The measure took effect on October 1, 2014.[4][5] Under the law, people under age 21 "who are accused of having less than 10 grams will have to pay a fine and attend a drug education program."[5]

In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly, controlled by Democrats, passed SB 517, which decriminalized the possession of marijuana paraphernalia (such as rolling papers, pipes and bongs) and decriminalized the smoking of marijuana in public. The measure makes both civil offenses punishable by a fine of up to $500. Republican Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the bill, but the Assembly overrode the veto.[6][7]

Medical cannabis (2013)

In May 2013, Governor O'Malley signed legislation that established a medical marijuana program in Maryland. The legislation restricts cannabis distribution to academic medical centers, which will monitor patients.[8] By September 2016, Maryland state officials were considering more than 800 applications for prospective dispensaries; under the law, there is a cap of 94 dispensary licenses, two per state Senate district.[9] Because the state has not yet approved dispensaries, "patients probably will not be able to obtain medical marijuana until summer 2017."[9]

In 2016, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission awarded 15 preliminary licenses to grow medical marijuana (out of a pool of almost 150 applicants) and a further 15 licenses to process medical marijuana "into pills, oils and other medical products."[9] The Commission received almost 150 grower applications and 124 processor applications.[9] Seven companies received licenses to both grow and process.[9] The selection process was controversial becausealthough the selection process was blinded and applications were ranked by outside evaluatorsmany successful applicants had political connections.[9] One unsuccessful grower applicant who ranked higher than some successful applicants sued the state, alleging that the Commission's reshuffling was arbitrary.[10]

As of November 2016, just 172 of the state's practicing physicians (about 1% of the state's total number) have registered to participate in Maryland's medical marijuana program. In addition, several large health systems in the state, citing the federal law against marijuana, said they would bar their doctors from recommending medical marijuana, including LifeBridge Health and MedStar Health.[11]


By statute, defendants who can prove medical necessity at trial face a maximum penalty of $100. Defendants in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana are permitted to raise an affirmative defense to the possession charge if they can prove they suffer from a specific debilitating medical condition.[12]


  1. The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests (June 2013), American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, p. 15.
  2. The War on Marijuana in Black and White, p. 123, table A3 & p. 155.
  3. The War on Marijuana in Black and White, p. 155.
  4. Erin Cox (April 14, 2014). "O'Malley signs 'Jake's Law,' marijuana decriminalization". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  5. 1 2 Jenna Johnson, Having a small amount of pot in Md. is no longer a criminal case, Washington Post (October 1, 2014).
  6. Pamela Wood, Hogan veto overturned; marijuana paraphernalia won't be a crime in Maryland, Baltimore Sun (January 21, 2016).
  7. Md. Lawmakers Override Veto Of Marijuana Paraphernalia Bill, Associated Press (January 21, 2016).
  8. Wagner, John (2013-05-02). "O'Malley signs death penalty repeal, medical marijuana bill and other measures". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Aaron Gregg & Fenit Nirappil, The first players in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry have political ties, Washington Post (August 15, 2016).
  10. Fenit Nirappil, Losing Maryland medical marijuana grower applicant sues the state, Washington Post (September 19, 2016).
  11. Meredith Cohn & Andrea K. McDaniels, Few doctors sign on to recommend medical marijuana in Maryland, Baltimore Sun (November 12, 2016).
  12. MD Criminal Law Code Annotated 5-601(c)

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