Progressive Maryland celebrates victories but faces setbacks in 2023 legislative session: A comprehensive review of priority bills and their outcomes.

Drug policy

Cannabis justice - but not for workers

After years of hard work by progressive leaders, including our members, cannabis is now legal for recreational use in Maryland with passage of HB556/SB516.

The good news: 

➥ unlike Maryland’s previous and largely failed attempt at medical cannabis regulations, the new law will award all 160 licenses in the first round to minority- or women-owned businesses. These “social equity” licenses will strengthen the law’s ability to direct investment back into communities most harmed by the war on drugs. 

The bad news:

➥ General Assembly leaders declined to implement serious protections for workers in the cannabis industry. Progressive Maryland joined our partners in the labor movement, particularly UFCW 400, to demand Labor Peace Agreement language in the cannabis bill. Labor peace language would guarantee the right to organize to all cannabis workers, ensuring that the benefits of this new economic sector truly lift all Marylanders, rather than a handful of owners. We held many meetings with lawmakers about this issue, engaged the media, and testified in favor of this basic protection. But in the end, thanks to the opposition of Committee Chairs C.T. Wilson in the House, and Melony Griffith in the Senate, the language was not included in the final bill. 

We are deeply concerned by the lack of care for workers’ rights this session and we will return to this issue next year. 

Drug decriminalization - the fight continues

Under Progressive Maryland’s leadership, a broad coalition of community organizations, advocates, and former legislators joined together to reintroduce the De Minimis Quantity Decriminalization bill (HB927), which would have decriminalized possession of personal use quantities of a broad range of drugs. Even as we celebrate cannabis legalization, we remain clear that the drug war is first and foremost a war on Black people and working class people of all races, and we must continue to liberate our communities from the carceral system by dismantling all aspects of the drug war.

Despite many meetings with lawmakers, passionate testimony, and a positive hearing in the House, our bill was not put forward for a vote. We will regroup with our coalition partners and continue this work into the next session.

Marijuana odor searches

Another lingering drug policy question this session was whether police would still be able to use the claimed odor of marijuana as a pretext to search vehicles. While you might have reasonably assumed that the legalization of marijuana would automatically end this racially discriminatory practice, police interests were lobbying very hard to keep it in place, arguing without evidence that it would help them seize weapons.

Luckily, at the last minute, a broad coalition of progressive leaders, led by the Maryland ACLU and including Progressive Maryland, succeeded in passing HB1071, which formally outlaws marijuana odor searches. This law will reduce racial profiling on our streets and make it less likely that Black Marylanders will be excluded from the benefits of marijuana legalization.

Overdose and Infectious Disease Prevention Services Program

It is unfortunate that SB618 did not pass this session. This bill aimed to establish an important program to address the opioid epidemic in related infectious diseases in the state. By authorizing community-based organizations to establish overdose and infectious disease prevention services programs, the bill would have provided the location for:

  • the consumption of pre obtained drugs
  • access to sterile needles
  • the ability to be administered first aid and other related services

The bill also would have allowed the program to bill the insurance carrier of the individual who uses the services, making it financially sustainable and viable. The failure to pass this bill is a missed opportunity to provide much-needed resources and support to individuals, struggling with substance abuse, and related infectious diseases.


Environmental justice

To get involved, contact SirJames Weaver, Environmental Justice Task Force organizer

Democratic leaders commit to continuing to pollute communities in South Baltimore

Among our greatest disappointments this session was Democratic leaders’ continued refusal to listen to South Baltimore’s demand to halt trash incineration at the Covanta facility. For decades, this smokestack has polluted the air and water of these working class, majority Black communities, leading to elevated rates of cancer and asthma, and some of the worst air quality in the entire state. 

Progressive Maryland has begun organizing these neighborhoods to fight back, leading many budding community leaders to testify in favor of reforming Maryland’s renewable energy portfolio to withdraw state subsidies from trash incineration (HB718/SB590). We know that incineration continues because it is profitable, and our goal is to make it unprofitable in order to shut it down.

Despite our efforts, House and Senate leaders, including Senate President Bill Ferguson – whose own district is home to the Covanta facility – refused to move the bill forward. Our work in South Baltimore continues and we are committed to building the power needed to win this fight.

Health justice

To get involved, contact Patty Snee, Healthcare Task Force organizer

Prescription drug affordability

One of the most exciting developments in healthcare policy in the past few years in Maryland has been the creation of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The PDAB is a regulatory body, the first of its kind in the US, that is empowered to set drug upper payment limits in the state on a range of common drugs, provided that the purchaser is a Maryland state entity, such as a public university, prison, etc.

This year, a broad coalition, including Progressive Maryland, successfully got the Board fully funded and extended after previous resistance from the Hogan administration (HB279). We will continue to work to grow this Board’s power and scope, by increasing the number and kinds of drugs it regulates, and expanding its regulatory authority to include more Marylanders. The high cost of medicines has a disproportionate impact on communities of color so the work of the Board is another way the state can address the racial inequities in healthcare. 

Access to Care

The Access to Care Act, HB588, which opens the Maryland Health Exchange to immigrants by removing immigration status as a barrier, passed in the House by a vote of 100-34 in March. This measure would enable about 300,000 residents to purchase healthcare policies on the Maryland Health Exchange which was created when the ACA went into effect. Dozens of organizations, including PMD, community and labor groups, and people who would benefit from the bill testified before the HGO in favor of the legislation. We joined 1199, CASA and other members of the End Medical Debt Maryland Campaign to stage  a Rally on March 13 on Lawyer’s Mall in support of Access to Care and other bills that would expand healthcare. About sixty folks gathered and another 30 watched on live stream as people shared stories, waved signs and urged action on a health justice agenda. Read about the event here: Article 1 | Article 2.

Unfortunately, despite the successful Rally, the  hundreds of calls and emails that reached the Senate Finance Committee, and the strong pres ence of CASA members at the State House in the final days of the session the Senate President refused to bring the bill up for a vote.This is the second year in a row that the Access to Care legislation didn’t advance despite repeated pledges from leadership to take  bold action to ensure no Marylander is left behind. The fight will continue

Hospital Reimbursements (HB333) 

The End Medical Debt Campaign Maryland (we’re a core member group) was created to address the burden that medical debt is placing on thousands of  families around the state. This bill solidifies and kicks off the process to reimburse low-income patients robbed by hospitals who wrongfully charged people eligible for free care.  Much more remains to be done to reimburse everyone due a refund and to make sure patients know their rights. 


Other key bills and issues this session

Democratic leaders ignore housing affordability crisis

One of the General Assembly’s most successful Covid-era interventions was the Emergency Rental Assistance program, which provided direct support to thousands of families facing eviction due to job loss, medical emergency, or other unforeseen crises. Despite the program’s proven success, Assembly leaders and the Governor have all chosen to walk away, at first defunding the program entirely, and then adding only a paltry $2 million after rapid response advocacy from Progressive Maryland and many of our allies.

This funding will not be nearly enough to provide desperately needed support to the more than 100,000 Maryland households behind on rent. A proposed voucher program that some Democratic leaders want to replace ERA with is woefully inadequate, providing less relief to fewer people with a more convoluted process. Governor Moore’s promise to end child poverty in Maryland rings particularly hollow given that more than 90% of households most likely to face eviction have children in the home, according to census data.

Fully funding ERA is aligned with the Governor’s stated priorities, saves the state money by addressing social problems before they spiral out of control, and protects the most vulnerable. It should have been a no-brainer this session, and we are appalled by this lack of commitment.

Right to Reproductive Freedom

The passing of the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act (SB798) was a significant step forward for recommitting to reproductive rights in our state following the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.. This bill ensures that all individuals have the right to reproductive healthcare such as birth control and abortion services. As a proposed constitutional amendment, Marylanders will vote on this bill in the 2024 election and the passing of this bill will guarantee it remains incontestable.