Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Commission is planning two independent investigations into the latest process for awarding licenses, a procedure that’s been put on hold after complaints and litigation.
“The priority is to get it right,” William Tilburg, the commission’s acting executive director, told prospective cannabis business owners who gathered in Annapolis on Tuesday afternoon.
One investigation will check whether the licensing review process was conducted fairly, Tilburg said. The other investigation will check the veracity of information included in high-ranking applications.
Tilburg said the commission staff is hiring the firms and that the reviews will each take at least 45 days. During that time, the commission will not award the licenses for growing and processing marijuana that have been under consideration.
The commission had intended to award four growing and 10 processing licenses last month, but that was put on hold after a judge issued a temporary restraining order sought by a company that was not considered for a license. The commission said the company, Remileaf, missed the application deadline, which Remileaf disputes.
The additional licenses were mandated by a 2018 state law with the goal of bringing more racial and gender diversity to the industry. A previous consultant’s study found that minority firms were disadvantaged in the state’s medical cannabis industry.
More than 200 applications were submitted for the 14 licenses.
The process has come under fire from applicants, with some alleging without proof that it was botched. Some have claimed that high-ranking applicants gamed the system by giving ownership shares to non-white individuals who would not have a say in operations.
Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, which hosted Tuesday’s meeting, said he’s heard that people of color were used by cannabis company owners “as pawns or tokens or figureheads” to score more points on their applications.
Sen. Joanne Benson said it’s frustrating that the Legislative Black Caucus led the charge to legalize medical marijuana use, then people of color have largely been unable to participate in the industry.
“The next thing you knew we were taken completely out of the process,” said Benson, a Prince George’s Democrat.