The Maryland General Assembly — which is nearly a month into its 2023 legislative session— is continuing its work on several key topics from last session, including cannabis reform, gun control and reproductive health care access. This session is the first in eight years in which the Democratic-led House of Delegates and Senate will be working with a Democratic governor.
Here’s a look at some of the most prominent issues facing the General Assembly this session.
Marylanders voted to legalize recreational cannabis through a ballot referendum in November. Starting in July, people 21 and older will be allowed to possess a specified “personal use amount” depending on the form it is in.
The referendum’s companion bill, which was passed in last year’s legislative session, also includes measures to remove some criminal penalties associated with cannabis possession and to expunge past possession convictions.
Legislators in the 2023 General Assembly will pass regulatory legislation about licensing and taxing recreational cannabis.
Other bills introduced this session aim to further loosen cannabis-related laws. One bill, sponsored by Sen. Jill Carter, a Democrat representing District 41, would make it such that probable cause cannot be determined solely by the smell of cannabis, the possession of cannabis or the presence of money close to cannabis.
“Now, as marijuana will be legal, it would be an illegal activity for law enforcement officers to continue to use [the odor of marijuana] as a pretext,” Carter said during a Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland press conference Jan. 25.
Another bill Carter introduced would substitute civil penalties in the place of criminal penalties for some cannabis-related offenses.
Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Democrat representing District 18, is among the General Assembly members who have introduced a number of gun control bills this session.
If passed, the Gun Safety Act of 2023 will prohibit people from bringing firearms in or near any public place. This includes schools, parks, restaurants, places of worship and more. This has drawn much criticism from gun rights activists and Republicans in the legislature who claim the bill is unconstitutional.
This bill and others were proposed after the United States saw more than 600 mass shootings in 2022 alone.
The bills also come after the Supreme Court decided in June that Maryland’s permit requirements for owning a gun were unconstitutional.
“Now anyone can get a gun and bring it anywhere,” Waldstreicher told the Capital News Service. “That is unacceptable and creates a tremendous danger in our state.”
Waldstreicher is also sponsoring the Raise the Age Act of 2023, a bill that would prohibit people under 21 from possessing a rifle or shotgun.
Though abortion is legal in Maryland, access to it is not a constitutional right.
Last session, the House of Delegates passed legislation that would allow voters to decide whether reproductive rights should be protected in the Maryland constitution. However, the bill did not pass the Senate.
During this year’s session, Democrats plan on picking up this legislation again to create a ballot referendum for 2024, so abortion protections are strengthened.
“I think we’ll have better success this year,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones told The Associated Press.
Lawmakers also introduced a bill that would help college students have access to birth control — including abortion pills — by making sure they are accessible at in-state public colleges.
Legislators said these bills are crucial following the loss of abortion protections at the federal level, which likely means more women from outside of the state will travel to Maryland for abortions.