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Dissenting medical marijuana commissioner replaced

A medical marijuana commissioner who dissented on a controversial vote has been replaced.

The state medical marijuana commissioner who cast the lone dissenting vote on a controversial move to deny grower licenses to two highly rated applicants and give them to lower-ranked rivals has been replaced.

Gov. Larry Hogan's office confirmed Thursday that he has not reappointed Deborah R. Miran, an appointee of former Gov. Martin O'Malley, on the state Medical Cannabis Commission. A commission spokeswoman said Miran's term had expired.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the decision to replace Miran, the president and founder of a consulting group, had nothing to do with her dissent.

"This office wasn't even remotely aware of how the vote took place," Mayer said.

While Miran dissented on that decision, she has not given a detailed explanation of her reasons. She sent a statement to The Baltimore Sun Friday in which she sidestepped the reasons for her departure.

"It has been my honor to serve on the commission for the last three years," she said. "When I reflect on where we started and what we accomplished, it truly evidence that when a group works together, much can be accomplished."

Mayer said the new appointee, Saundra Washington, was chosen after consultation with the Legislative Black Caucus. Hogan has now made four appointments to the 16-member commission, Mayer said. He said one of those appointments was chosen by the Comptroller's Office.

Washington is executive director of LifeStyles Foundation of Maryland Inc., a nonprofit that assists people in crisis with food, clothing, and shelter. A cancer survivor, Washington will help oversee an emerging industry that is intended to bring relief to people suffering from that and other diseases.

Miran was the member of a commission subcommittee who refused to go along July 29 when that panel reversed its earlier unanimous decision to award preliminary licenses according to the rankings arrived at by Towson University researchers. Two days after its July 27 vote, the subcommittee decided 4-1 to replace two companies ranked in the top 15 to ensure "geographical diversity."

That decision was criticized Thursday by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who were holding an all-day hearing on issues including the allocation of medical marijuana licenses.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, who chairs the caucus, called the commission's explanation that it changed rankings to ensure that certain regions were represented "laughable."

"It makes no sense. Their argument on geographical diversity doesn't pass the smell test," the Baltimore Democrat said.

The caucus had previously vowed to do all it could to hold up the process of issuing licenses until the General Assembly could address the question of racial diversity in the issuance of licenses.

Applicants with majority African-American ownership were shut out in the issuance of preliminary grower licenses. The commission explained the state constitution prohibited them from giving racial preferences in the evaluation process. The caucus has rejected that premise, and at least one failed applicant with more than 80 percent African-American ownership has vowed to sue.

A representative of a group that advocates for patients' access to medical cannabis appeared before the caucus to plead with its members to do nothing to delay the its availability.

Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, urged the caucus to let the 15 grower licenses go through while seeking to expand the number awarded. He said Maryland has already had "just about the slowest" rollout of a medical cannabis program among the roughly 25 states that have adopted one.

"We really need to do right by patients as well as African-American-led businesses," he said. Patients, he said, "are getting increasingly scared, anxious and desperate" as they wait for medicine to treat their conditions.

But Glenn and other caucus members were unyielding.

"We are not going to let anybody get licenses under the scenario that exists now," said Glenn, one of the legislature's chief proponents of medical cannabis. "We might as well not have a black caucus if we were to allow that to happen."

The caucus has asked the commission to hold up any further work on issuing licenses to grow, process and distribute medical cannabis.

Commission spokeswoman Vanessa Lyon said that would require a vote of the full commission. She said the panel is "wary of any additional delays in making the medicine available to patients."

Holt said that if the selection process were restarted from the beginning, that could add another year or two to the process of bringing products to the market.

"Industry and patient advocacy groups do not support delays in this process," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

An earlier version of the article incorrectly identified the commission spokeswoman. The Sun regrets the error.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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