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Investigation finds no bias in Maryland’s cannabis license award process

An investigation into the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission found “no evidence of bias or undue influence in the 2019 license application review process.” Marijuana plants are shown Feb. 11, 2020, in Mount Sterling, Illinois.
An investigation into the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission found “no evidence of bias or undue influence in the 2019 license application review process.” Marijuana plants are shown Feb. 11, 2020, in Mount Sterling, Illinois. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

An investigation into the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission found “no evidence of bias or undue influence in the 2019 license application review process” and that former Del. Cheryl Glenn did not influence the process, despite her pleading guilty in January to accepting more than $33,000 in bribes.

A report released Thursday and written by the Zuckerman Spaeder LLP law firm said several allegations of bias leveled against the commission, including a claim that its former executive director was related to an applicant, were unfounded.

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As for Glenn, while she admitted to accepting bribes in exchange for votes or supporting legislation related to the industry she helped build, the investigation found they did not affect the application review process.

“Although these revelations were troubling, Delegate Glenn’s communications with [the commission] were quite limited, and we found no evidence that she improperly influenced the review process,” the law firm wrote.

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In addition, the report dismisses claims that staff members at Morgan State University in Baltimore — who acted as independent evaluators alongside the commission — were related to some of the applicants and gave them favorable reviews.

The report identified Shelonda Stokes, a member of the university’s Board of Regents; Joan Carter Conway, a former state senator and current university employee; and Ugonna Anyadike, a technical support specialist at the school, as having conflicts due to connections they had with cannabis grower and dispensary applicants.

“These affiliations arguably violated a provision of the commission’s implementing legislation designed to avoid conflicts of interest for third-party evaluators; however, we found no evidence that these applications were scored more, or less, favorably by either the MSU evaluators or commission staff,” the report reads. “Indeed, only one evaluator noticed that an individual affiliated with MSU was referenced in an application.”

The report also dismissed several claims of bias leveled against the commission, including that former Executive Director Joy Strand was related to a license applicant.

That allegation was among several concerns the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland asked the state attorney general to investigate. In a letter last fall, Del. Darryl Barnes, a Prince George’s Democrat who chairs the caucus, relayed claims that had circulated that Strand “had a close relative who was affiliated with an entity seeking a license.”

The report says the firm was unable to find any evidence to support that claim.

In addition, the investigation found that no university staffers had communicated improperly with members of the cannabis commission during the process.

Barnes said he found it hard to believe that the investigators found not one flaw in the process, despite rampant rumors in the industry of various conflicts of interest.

“It’s troubling for me that with the hundreds of people that came to me, and Del. Glenn at the time, and raised all these concerns, that they found no infractions at all,” Barnes said.

Barnes is scheduling a meeting between leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus and leaders of the cannabis commission to better understand the report and what the next steps should be. He said it’s important to “ensure that everything was done transparently, as well as to ensure that everything is fair.”

Another investigation by a commission subcommittee reviewing the accuracy of submitted applications has yet to be released.

That review is scheduled to be discussed at the next commission meeting Oct. 1, wrote William Tilburg, the commission’s newest executive director, in an email.

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Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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