Black Caucus calls for special session on medical marijuana

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The head of the Legislative Black Caucus said Tuesday her organization wants Gov. Larry Hogan to recall the General Assembly to Annapolis for a one-day special session to pass a law expanding the medical marijuana industry.

That legislation failed in the waning minutes of the annual 90-day session on Monday night, ending a months-long fight to grant lucrative medical cannabis growing licenses to companies owned by minorities.

Despite a state law requiring regulators to seek racial diversity, none of the 15 firms to win preliminary licenses last year was led by African-Americans.

Baltimore Democratic Del. Cheryl Glenn, chair of the 51-member caucus, said the last-minute failure of the group's top priority left black lawmakers "feeling rejected, dejected and taken for granted" by the Democrats who lead the General Assembly. The caucus sought to issue another five licenses and reinvent the commission that had awarded the initial ones.

"Nothing changes, and most importantly, that means African-Americans are left out of this billion-dollar industry in Maryland, and that is not acceptable," Glenn said Tuesday.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer declined to comment on the request. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, referred the topic to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, also a Democrat. Busch said that the caucus needed to raise it with the governor.

Glenn planned a morning press conference Wednesday to continue to press the issue. She'll be joined by African-American prospective business owners, Baltimore defense attorney Billy Murphy, and representatives from GTI Maryland, a company suing the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission over how it awarded the initial round of licenses.

GTI and another firm, Maryland Cultivation and Processing, filed lawsuits against the commission after they were removed from the pool of winning applicants as the commission sought geographic diversity among growers. Negotiations broke down in the General Assembly over whether to write into state law that the two companies are entitled to a new license.

Miller insisted that any legislation contain that provision. Busch refused to consider it until late Monday, when it appeared no legislation would pass without the provision. The final vote on the House floor did not take place before the midnight deadline to adjourn.

Glenn said this has caused a rift between the caucus and Democratic leaders who rely on its members to help pass legislation.

"They failed us, and it stings," she said. "And the way that we resolve it is the one-day special session. Let's pick up where we left off."

The Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, which represents companies that received initial permission to grow and process the drug, said the legislation's failure allows it to continue to "focus on the primary goal: getting medical cannabis to Maryland patients," hundreds of whom turned up in Annapolis to make their voices heard.

Dr. Paul Davies, chairman of the cannabis commission, said he was "very relieved" the commission would not be reconstituted and that it could continue work to issue final licenses that would put the drug in patients' hands by summer. The commission has hired a diversity consultant, and by law will re-evaluate in 2018 whether the market for medical marijuana can support more growers, processors or dispensaries.

"The commission gets the message that racial and ethnic diversity is important," Davies said. "We plan to aggressively pursue a policy of diversity."

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

ecox@baltsun.com

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