The Legislative Black Caucus is challenging the medical marijuana licensing process. (WJZ)

Medical cannabis is an emergent industry, and diversity must be woven into the fabric of this multi-billion dollar business from the beginning. We acknowledge that there are those in our communities who remain steadfast in their opposition to the expansion of the availability of cannabis in Maryland, and we honor these different points of view. Yet consider that we are not attempting to change minds about the issue itself but, rather, to shed light on the economic impact we know this industry will have. With the economic drive to "follow the money," communities of color must not be left behind.

New Frontier Data estimates that the legal cannabis market in the U.S. was worth an estimated $6.6 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent, reaching more than $24 billion by 2025. The medical cannabis market was worth an estimated $4.7 billion in 2016, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12 percent, reaching more than $13 billion by 2025.

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Maryland's nascent medical marijuana industry already booming

More than 350 applicants for licenses to grow, process or dispense medical marijuana were filed with the state's Medical Cannabis Commission by Friday evening's deadline, as entrepreneurs try to get in at the ground floor of the newest pot market. The applications cover every county in the state.

While the lack of racial diversity of Maryland's preliminary license holders has drawn a lot of attention, this is only one part of the conversation that needs to take place. The issue isn't just the race of the license holders, but that there is no plan to involve or encourage minority participation. Consider the medical marijuana value chain — every facet of this industry from investors to the information technology used to track the plants to the logistics of distribution to the professional services utilized for regulatory review.

The Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Maryland Minority Chamber of Commerce are advocating for a diversity mindset for the medical marijuana industry in Maryland — not simply a wish of diversity inclusion, but a strategic, inclusive plan that incorporates diversity as the fabric of this nascent industry in Maryland: from owners to investors to the farmers and hourly workers.

We can learn from history what the consequences are if we remain silent, and if the issue of minority participation from the top-down is not aggressively addressed.

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Consider Maryland's renewable energy portfolio. While we remain in conversations with our state officials regarding the role minority businesses should play in opportunities to grow the use of wind energy and solar energy, these conversations are happening after the industry has taken off in Maryland. Further, consider Maryland's agricultural heritage. A U.S. Department of Agriculture examination of the history of agriculture demonstrates how discrimination and obstacles have decimated the economic strength of African American farmers ("Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000, The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role of Cooperatives", USDA).

We have before us an opportunity to transform our state. Imagine that Maryland could be a global economic cluster model for the medical cannabis industry and we could export our knowledge to others. Imagine that our economic development successes could be touted as inclusive and truly forward-thinking. Imagine that we were able to include minorities at every level of strategic thought.

Minority stakeholders must be part of the process. We are engaging legislators and regulatory officials to do our part to bring solutions and to add our voices to the collaboration.

We can't sit idly by while we witness, yet again, another rapidly growing industry with so much positive transformational impact to minorities and our community at large blatantly develop from its inception without incorporating diversity inclusion at every level and layer of its structure.

Jorge Eduardo Castillo (chair@mdhcc.org ) is chief executive officer of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and chairman and president of its board of directors. Doris J. Cammack-Spencer (Chair@SMMCOC.org) is chief executive officer of the Southern Maryland Minority Chamber of Commerce, and chairman and president of its board of directors.

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