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State medical marijuana commission always had goal of minority involvement

Medical marijuana and CBD are legal in at least 33 states. File.
Medical marijuana and CBD are legal in at least 33 states. File. (Photo by Tinnakorn Jorruang/Getty ImagesHealth equity starts with accessibility)

Contrary to assertions by the current executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC), members and staff of the original commission were indeed committed to ensuring racial diversity within the medical cannabis industry and well-versed in the language and intent of the 2014 law (“Slow burn: Maryland medical marijuana companies fume as licensing process drags on,” Dec. 27). The former chairman, Paul Davies, stated publicly “when drafting the original regulations for issuing licenses … the MMCC initially took every step possible to include racial diversity as a weighted component of the regulations …because of a strong belief that minority inclusion is of paramount importance to this new industry.” Toward that end, the original draft application set aside 15% of the total points awarded for applicants to demonstrate that they would include minorities at all levels of their operation (investors, owners and staff).

However, immediately prior to finalizing and posting license applications on the commission’s website, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office informed the commission that “constitutional limits would prevent the MMCC from conducting race or ethnicity conscious licensing in the absence of a disparity study showing past discrimination in similar programs.” The commission was advised that it could not look at other state programs as part of a study and ultimately the commission’s assistant attorney general directed the MMCC to revise its draft regulations, subsequently approved by the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review and to modify the application form by deleting the section designed to identify and encourage diversity and minority participation.

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The revised applications were posted from late September to early November 2015. During that time, the commission regularly held public meetings with the industry and briefings throughout the state and across media outlets to actively encourage participation by minorities.

In June 2017, the MMCC released diversity data based on survey responses from 79 pre-approved applicants representing a total of 321 business owners and 238 employees (11 growers, 9 processors, and 59 dispensaries). Interestingly, these survey data clearly showed a higher rate of minority ownership (over 35% of those with an ownership stake) relative to the national average of 19% of respondents who launched a cannabis business and/or have an ownership stake.

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Despite the hurdles of launching a new multi-million dollar industry with limited resources and staffing, there was a record breaking number of applicants and some significant success in achieving the state’s objective to enable minority participation and provide medical cannabis to patients in need.

Eric E. Sterling, Debra Miran and Hannah Byron

The writers are, respectively, former Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission policy committee chair (2013-2017), former MMCC commissioner (2013-2016) and former MMCC executive director (2015-2016).

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