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Maryland medical cannabis regulators extend application period as errors mar process aimed at diversification

Maryland medical cannabis regulators extend application period as errors mar process aimed at diversification
Maryland's medical cannabis commission is extending the application period for new grower and processor licenses until June 24. (Brennan Linsley / AP)

A series of technical snags has forced the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to give companies 14 more days to apply for one of the state’s 14 new growing and processing licenses, state regulators announced Monday.

The commission had received more than 160 applications by the previous May 24 deadline from firms seeking to score a license in a second round of awards aimed at increasing the participation of minority- and women-owned businesses.

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The state is issuing four new cannabis growing licenses and 10 new licenses for processing the plant into medical products.

Companies now will have until June 24 to submit new applications “following a series of technical issues that presented obstacles to a significant number of those attempting to submit applications electronically by the May 24th deadline,” the commission announced Monday.

In addition to problems with the online submission portal, the extension also was driven by “widespread errors” applicants committed in their forms by not redacting the names associated with their companies.

To guarantee “fairness and impartiality” in the competition, the commission required applicants to hide the names of businesses, owners, investors, employees and any contractors.

“Across both the grower and processor license categories the vast majority of applicants failed to redact all identifying applicant and business name information,” the commission announced Monday.

Applicants must now hand-deliver their package of forms — not including several previously required attachments where many redaction errors occurred — on USB drives directly to the commission’s Linthicum office by 5 p.m. June 24.

“The unexpected issues are disappointing, but we are pleased with the significant interest and large number of applications,” said Brian Lopez, the chairman of the commission, in a statement. “The large number of applications show how effective the Commission’s outreach and education efforts over the past year have been, and we are confident that these efforts will likely results in a diverse applicant pool.”

The commission stated that the additional time will help the effort “to broaden the racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic diversity of Maryland medical cannabis program.”

More than two years ago, the commission faced significant criticism and lawsuits for how it picked the first 15 companies to grow cannabis. The state’s Legislative Black Caucus was outraged that companies owned by African Americans did not win any of the preliminary growing licenses.

A state-commissioned “disparity study” confirmed that minorities and women had been shut out of the industry, an analysis that provided the legal support needed to implement “race- and gender-based measures to remediate discrimination,” the study stated.

With the study completed, the General Assembly passed legislation in 2018 to expand the marijuana growing operations to try to give minorities an ownership role.

Commission executive director Joy Strand, Lopez and commission staff spent much of the past year traveling the state to raise awareness of the new licenses within the minority business community at forums and seminars at community centers, historically black colleges and other places.

The industry in Maryland recorded nearly $50 million in sales for the first three months of this year, four times more than in the same period in 2018, when many dispensaries weren’t open yet. The market generated nearly $100 million in sales in 2018, the industry’s first full year.

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