Maryland lawmakers vote to expand medical marijuana industry with plan to expand diversity

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Maryland lawmakers on Monday approved legislation that expands the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry in a way that gives minority-owned companies a better shot at opening a new cannabis business.

The plan, passed by the Senate Monday and the House of Delegates this weekend, would issue seven new cannabis growing and 13 new cannabis processing licenses. The bill calls for an award process that uses an application that takes race — and the barriers for minorities starting a marijuana firm — into account.

The bill also includes a “compassionate use” fund that would help low income people and veterans pay for the drug, which is not covered by health insurance.

The proposed expansion now goes to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for a signature or veto.

The governor has generally expressed support for expanding the industry, which launched late last year with no African-American owned firms among the 15 picked to grow the drug.

Only 14 of the 20 new licenses will be open to competition.

The remaining six are set aside for specific companies — four of them in an effort to promote the integration of grower-processor operations and two to resolve a lawsuit filed against the state.

Regulators in 2016 excluded two high-ranked marijuana companies from winning growing licenses, choosing instead to give the awards to lower-ranked firms in hopes of achieving geographic representation. Those companies sued the state over the exclusion. The legislation approved Monday grants licenses to those two firms.

The measure’s passage prompted one of those companies, GTI Maryland, to announce Monday it planned to dismiss its lawsuit against the state’s medical marijuana regulators. Pete Kadens, GTI’s CEO, said he’ll focus on getting his operation up and running and that “justice prevailed today.”

State lawmakers have tried for two years to remedy the lack of diversity in the market. Last year, a bill to do that died in the final moments of the General Assembly session.

“This time last year, it was a very stressful situation. It was heartbreaking,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who was the chief proponent for more diversity in the medical marijuana industry.

The Legislative Black Caucus had pushed to have this bill passed and on the governor’s desk by the end of January. Instead it passed Monday, the final day of the 90-day sprint of state lawmaking.

Glenn, who until this month of was chair of the black caucus, in January started wearing a gold cannabis leaf pin, which she vowed to wear every day until the bill passed. She’s now ordered 100 more to hand out to supporters if the bill is signed into law.

ecox@baltsun.com

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