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Marijuana company exec offers compromise that could lead to special session

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

A medical marijuana company suing the state said Tuesday it would not drop its lawsuit unless it gets a license to grow the drug. But its CEO said the firm will no longer insist that a license for it be written into state law.

That insistence was at the heart of a standoff between General Assembly leaders, and the key reason Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch would not call lawmakers back to Annapolis for a special session to expand the medical marijuana industry.

The presiding officers have agreed that at least five more licenses to grow the drug should be granted to minority-owned firms. But they refused to compromise on whether the legislature should intervene in a separate controversy over giving growing licenses to two top-ranked companies that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission excluded from the initial pool of winners.

The leader of one of those companies, GTI Maryland CEO Pete Kadens, said Tuesday his company's pursuit of a license appeared to be standing in the way of the Legislative Black Caucus' request for a special session to help African-American-owned firms that have been shut out of the industry. He spoke during a meeting with The Baltimore Sun's editorial board.

Although a state law required the cannabis commission to consider racial diversity when awarding licenses, the commission did not weigh that factor. None of the initial 15 licenses went to firms owned by African-Americans.

Lawmakers this year sought to remedy that, and Miller sought to help GTI as well. That firm initially ranked in the top 15, but the cannabis commission bumped it out of contention in order to achieve "geographic diversity" among marijuana growers. The dual controversies became intertwined, and Busch's refusal to help GTI ultimately led to the defeat of a bill that would have expanded the industry in a way likely to favor African-American firms.

Kadens, who is white, said he asked himself, "Is it possible that we could be the ones that are protracting institutional racism?"

"I think we should yield," Kadens said.

Miller and Busch have not discussed whether GTI's concession removes the remaining roadblock to calling a special session, their aides said Tuesday. Gov. Larry Hogan has the authority to convene a special session, but said through a spokesman Tuesday he would not consider it until the presiding officers agree on an approach.

"This is between them," Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said Tuesday. "This is an issue they need to resolve."

In addition to the lawsuit, GTI is still seeking a new provision in state law that would guarantee the company would be in line for a license if some of the initial winners dropped out. The cannabis commission signaled last year it intended to move down the list of top-ranked companies if the chosen 15 firms did not win final approval to grow the drug.

"This is not a money grab," Kadens said. "We want what is justly ours."

Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat, said Tuesday that GTI's position removes "the only issue" standing in the way of a special session. Glenn has said the legislature has an obligation to add cannabis-growing licenses to ensure that minority-owned firms are represented in the lucrative new industry.

Glenn said she has began a formal petition of her colleagues to return to Annapolis on June 15, an effort she plans to continue in order to get on record which Democrats back the top priority of her caucus.

"Not supporting us in this issue is supporting institutional racism," Glenn said. "The medical cannabis industry is moving forward, and it is moving forward with the exclusion of African-Americans."

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