A proposed referendum to allow voters to decide if pot should be legalized faces an uphill battle in a state wedded to racially biased marijuana policies
TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. A key legislator wants the people to be able to vote on whether or not marijuana should be legalized but the question is will it happen? CURT ANDERSON: We’ve got a new strategy this year. It’s going to be a bill simply to put it on the ballot for referendum. We feel that folks who have not supported this bill in the past could support the idea of allowing Marylanders to decide. TAYA GRAHAM: It’s the latest move by state delegate Curt Anderson, a long time proponent of legalizing pot, to allow Maryland to join other states on the path to legal recreational use. CURT ANDERSON: This will be a referendum on whether or not marijuana should be legalized in the state of Maryland. Not decriminalized, not a civil fine, simply like Oregon, Washington state, Texas, nine other states that already do this. TAYA GRAHAM: A proposed referendum that would take the decision out of the hands of the political establishment who have stalled previous efforts and allow the people to vote, an idea similar to a referendum in 2008 that allowed people to legalize gambling. But it’s a long-shot for the purportedly blue state that has taken a punitive approach to marijuana in the past, a strategy focused primarily on race. As recently as 2014, 90% of all people arrested for simple possession in Baltimore were African Americans despite representing just 63% of the population. A report by the ACLU found that in Maryland, between 2001 and 2010, pot-related arrests of African Americans rose at 10 times the rate of whites; a study that also revealed pot arrests are also big business for law enforcement, racking up $105 million in direct costs alone. In 2014, Anderson was able to pass a law decriminalizing possession of under 10 grams and arrests fell, but it’s not clear if the people who run the state are ready to let the voters decide. TAYA GRAHAM: I spoke with delegate Curt Anderson and he’s trying to get a referendum created so that your average citizen in Maryland could vote on whether or not we legalize marijuana. Do you think we should have a vote on it? GERALD MOODY: Yeah, I believe so. Everybody should have an equal opportunity to cast their vote. TAYA GRAHAM: We asked Republican governor Larry Hogan for comment and did not hear back. We also asked Mayor Catherine Pugh. Her spokesman said he would get back to us, but did not. Finally, we reached out to the offices of Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, and Speaker of the House, Michael Bush. None of them returned our inquiries, which is why we reached out to the people to find out what they think, and if the state should give them the chance to have their say on a critical issue. TAYA GRAHAM: So we spoke to delegate Curt Anderson and he says that he’s going to try to get a referendum on the ballot, so that we can vote on whether or not we should legalize marijuana. Do you think your average citizen should have the right to vote on marijuana? MARK SCOTT: Yes I do, simply because it comes from Mother Nature, a tree. EDDIE: Yeah. I definitely think that because then everybody’s voice will be heard, then you can decide equally, you know, what’s good, what people thinking and you can just go from there. TRINA: I think everyone should be able have access to it because especially for me as a person, I’m a marijuana smoker and I’d rather smoke marijuana than take bi-polar medicine. It’s like a relaxation medicine. DOMINIQUE HALL: Stop. But seriously, I’m being honest from my heart, and I really believe medicinally, yes. Now you’re asking me can any old Joe get it. The thing is, yes, because they do anyway. It’s out here and it’s being bought, and people are going to jail for this, which is, you know, you’re not murdering somebody, you’re not robbing someone. You are self-medicating from what I’ve seen. People with depression, with anxiety, with anything. All these things- LEA HARMON: Cataracts. DOMINIQUE HALL: Cataracts, whatever, yeah. They are self-medicating, and they’re getting it anyway on the streets, so why not make it legal, so your grandmom isn’t sitting in jail for taking medicine, basically. LEA HARMON: I’d say that it’s good medically, and medically only because there’s people suffering from cancer, such as myself. I suffer from bladder disease. There’s people who don’t get sleep, who stay up for weeks at a time, and the whole part of the medical reasons stand out for me as far as Maryland. Now, as far as drugs concerned, and drug addiction, and abusing drugs regardless of what it is, it’s totally wrong on my behalf. Now, medically, yes. I’d say yes, that Maryland should medically okay it. TAYA GRAHAM: But not recreationally. LEA HARMON: Not recreation. I wouldn’t want my kids using something they don’t need. It’s no different from them swallowing 20 pills. TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.