State lawmakers are poised for an end-of-session fight over how much to expand the medical marijuana industry and who would get the new licenses.
A Senate committee voted Friday night to issue seven additional growing licenses, two more than the House of Delegates preferred, bringing the maximum in the state from 15 to 22.
The vote in the Senate Finance Committee also sets up a confrontation Monday, the General Assembly's final day, over whether two companies that were highly ranked but denied initial growing licenses would be rewarded them by the legislature.
The Senate version of the bill would grant those companies licenses; the House version would not.
The committee also agreed to a provision suggested by the lobbyist representing companies that secured preliminary licenses. It would allow them to use pesticides on cannabis plants in certain limited circumstances.
Both chambers agreed that the industry needed an expansion and infusion of minority-owned firms. The initial round of preliminary licenses issued last fall did not take into account minority ownership, despite the law requiring it to do so.
The licensing process spawned at least two lawsuits, including one from companies who were bumped off the list of preliminary license winners in order to achieve more geographic diversity among growers. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, has pushed to give those companies additional licenses to end their lawsuit.
Lawmakers in both chambers also agreed to reconstitute the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission that set up the nascent industry, wrote regulations to govern it and endured harsh public criticism over how it issued licenses.
The commission has said it is close to granting final licenses to some growers and expects the drug to be ready for patients by the end of the summer.
The legislature has until midnight Monday to forge a compromise on whether to hand out additional, lucrative licenses.