A new legislative report delivered to Maryland lawmakers this week projects that the nationwide market for legal cannabis could climb to $72 billion per year by 2030, more than double the current market estimation of $32 billion annually. But the report also shows that some states that have legalized cannabis have failed to set clear social equity goals and that the regulated marijuana market nationwide lacks a proportionate representation of Black-owned businesses.

Lawmakers in Maryland are exploring how legalized adult-use cannabis would impact the state, where voters will decide on recreational marijuana legalization in this month’s general election. On Tuesday, the Maryland House of Delegates’ Cannabis Referendum and Legalization work group met virtually to assess a report on the nationwide cannabis regulation climate.

A $75 Billion Industry

The report, which was prepared and presented to the work group by Mathew Swinburne, associate director of Network for Public Health Law-Eastern Region of Baltimore, includes information from New Frontier Data that projects steady growth of the nationwide market as current markets mature and new states are added to the roster of legal cannabis states. Growing from $32 billion in 2022, the projection estimates a total market nationwide of $72 billion by 2030. 

“We know that the cannabis industry is a profitable industry,” said Swinburne. “This is a new industry that is filled with economic opportunity and that opportunity is only growing,” he added. “Although this industry presents some significant economic opportunities, communities of color are missing out on this cannabis boom.”

Swinburne told the work group that jobs in the cannabis industry rose from about 321,000 in 2020 to approximately 428,000 a year later. However, the report also notes that 81% of cannabis businesses are owned by white people and 58% of businesses have no employees who are members of minority groups. 

Efforts to address the lack of diversity in the cannabis industry have been inconsistent, the report notes. Of the 19 states that have legalized recreational marijuana, Alaska, Maine, Montana, and Oregon do not have social equity measures in place to help improve equitable representation in the cannabis industry.

Swinburne highlighted some states’ approach to social equity, noting that Connecticut provides financial incentives for medical cannabis business owners to partner with new small or minority-owned businesses to provide assistance over a specified timeframe. Massachusetts provides accessible opportunities to enter the market by allowing courier and delivery operators to provide cannabis products directly to consumers. And in New York, regulators have created a $200 million fund to support social equity businesses and have prioritized those with past convictions for marijuana offenses for the state’s first 100 recreational cannabis dispensary licenses.

Delegate C.T. Wilson of Charles County, chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, asked Swinburne how taxation in other states with legal cannabis has impacted the illicit market and illegal marijuana sales.

“That’s a definite challenge states are confronted with,” Swinburne replied. “If your goal is to decrease the share of the unlicensed market, you have to keep your licensed market competitive. It’s important to highlight with the tax revenue you get, there’s a moral obligation to use some of that for addressing the harms that were caused [in low-income communities].”

Senator Melony Griffith of Prince George’s County asked if any states that have legalized recreational marijuana had implemented policies, such as a disparity study, that was required “to produce evidence of their race concise remedies,” but Swinburne said the report did not assess that issue in its analysis.

Maryland Voters To Decide On Legalizing Weed

In next week’s midterm election, voters in Maryland will decide on Question 4, a referendum that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older beginning in July 2023. The measure also directs the state legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. 

Currently, marijuana is legal for medicinal use in Maryland under a 2013 law, while possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis was decriminalized in 2014. Question 4 is overwhelmingly supported by Maryland voters, with a recent poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland showing 73% in favor of the proposal.

Voter Tamara McKinney of Prince George’s County told Maryland Matters that she plans to vote in favor of Question 4, but said she hopes the launch of the state’s recreational marijuana program will provide resources for Black and brown communities and those who have been incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses.

“De-criminalizing it helps keep our men out of the [criminal justice] system,” she said. “But if it helps to keep them out the system, what are we doing to keep them out [of jail]? I want them to have more resources than just the ability to get high.”

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