Supporters are scheduled to talk about the Maryland marijuana measure on Monday. Pictured: A marijuana plant flourishes under grow lights at a warehouse in Denver in October 2010. (Ed Andrieski, Associated Press file)

Maryland lawmakers will introduce marijuana legalization bills this week

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland would regulate and tax marijuana for adult use similarly to alcohol, under legislation state lawmakers plan to introduce this week.

Related: Maryland medical marijuana: Black lawmakers push for diversity

Lawmakers said at a news conference Monday that they will introduce two bills, one focusing on regulation and another regarding taxation.

“Now is the time to join other states and move toward a sensible system of regulation and taxation,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat and sponsor of the two Senate bills.

The measure regulating marijuana use would allow it for adults 21 and older. It would remain illegal to consume marijuana in public or drive under the influence of it. The bill also would create a structure for licensing and regulating a limited number of marijuana retail stores, product manufacturers, testing facilities and cultivation facilities. The comptroller’s office would be responsible for issuing licenses and creating rules.

The tax measure would initially enact an excise tax of $30 an ounce, which would generally be paid by cultivators, and a 9 percent sales tax on retail sales, which is the same as the sales tax rate on alcohol.

While the General Assembly decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2014, there has not been enough support in recent years to allow its recreational use. Nonetheless, advocates say support is increasing as more states legalize marijuana.

Del. David Moon, D-Montgomery, also is sponsoring legislation that would put the legalization of marijuana to a statewide vote in a constitutional amendment next year.

“But I think it’s an open question: Are there lawmakers in Maryland who are willing to vote to put this to a vote but unwilling to support it as a direct change that we implement through state law, and I don’t know the answer to this question, but I imagine we’ll find out more in the coming weeks,” Moon said.

The General Assembly has voted on a constitutional amendment before to settle difficult legislation that has divided lawmakers. Lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 to allow slot machine gambling, and voters approved the constitutional amendment in 2008. Voters also approved an expansion of gambling in 2012.