Pubdate: Fri, 19 Aug 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Fenit Nirappil


Critics Say MD. Diversity Isn't Reflected; Decisions May Be Challenged

Maryland set up its legal medical marijuana industry with hopes of 
racial diversity and equity in the division of profits, but not one 
of the 15 companies that were cleared this week for potentially 
lucrative growing licenses is led by African Americans.

Some lawmakers and prospective minority-owned businesses say this is 
unacceptable in a state where nearly a third of the population is 
black, the most of any state with a comprehensive legal pot industry. 
They say the lack of diversity is emblematic of how, across the 
country, African Americans are disproportionately locked up when 
marijuana use is criminalized but are shut out of the profits when 
drug sales are legalized.

"We are not going to see this industry flourish in the state of 
Maryland with no minority participation," said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn 
(D-Baltimore), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Glenn was a key player in the legalization battle, and the commission 
that awards medical marijuana business licenses and oversees the 
industry is named after her mother, Natalie LaPrade, who died of cancer.

Glenn is considering filing a legal injunction to halt the licensing 
process and is weighing other options, such as pushing the commission 
to award additional licenses to minority-owned companies.

The law legalizing medical marijuana says regulators should "actively 
seek to achieve" racial and ethnic diversity in the industry. But the 
commission did not provide extra weight to applications submitted by 
minority-owned businesses because a letter from the attorney 
general's office suggested that preferences would be unconstitutional 
without there being a history of racial disparity in marijuana 
licensing to justify the move.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said there 
will be opportunities to expand minority participation when the 
agency awards dispensary licenses and when it considers issuing more 
cultivation licenses in 2018 if supply doesn't meet demand. 
Businesses must also submit annual reports on the racial breakdown of 
their ownership and workforce, providing a more comprehensive look at 
the industry's diversity.

"The commission believes a diverse workforce is in the best interest 
of the industry," said Vanessa Lyon, the spokeswoman.

But Glenn and other critics say the state hasn't done enough to 
ensure diversity in the blossoming business that's already worth 
billions nationwide.

Several black-owned companies applied for licenses but were not among 
the 15 that were granted early approval to grow marijuana for medical 
use, contingent on those companies passing intensive background 
checks and facility inspections.

The ownership breakdowns of the approved growers is not available, 
but none of the listed top executives is black. One of the businesses 
is owned and led by a family of South Asian descent in Frederick 
County, and women are at the helm of two other ventures.

The commission also gave an additional 15 preliminary licenses to 
process marijuana into medical products, and at least one went to a 
company led and owned by a group of black medical professionals in 
Prince George's County. But entrepreneurs consider processing less 
profitable than cultivation.

Among the rejected African American marijuana entrepreneurs is Darryl 
Hill, who broke a racial barrier as the first black football player 
at a major university in the South and has been as an advocate for 
minority advancement in businesses from fine dining to green energy.

For his latest venture, he saw Maryland's medical marijuana industry 
as an opportunity to recruit a team of minority business people and 
help create a more equitable market.

"This is a brand-new industry where 50 years of experience didn't 
come into play and your granddaddy didn't hand it down to you," said 
Hill, a 72-year-old Laurel resident. "But this idea of sharing the 
largesse didn't really happen."

The commission did take another kind of diversity into account in 
awarding growing licenses: It approved two lower-scoring prospective 
cultivators to ensure that companies were spread out across the state.

"Certainly, if geographic diversity is something that we strive for, 
we should strive to make sure this industry looks like the state of 
Maryland in terms of its diversity," said Darrell Carrington, a 
lobbyist who leads a trade group and helped the group of African 
American doctors secure a processing license.

Del. Christopher R. West (R Baltimore County), who requested the 
letter from the attorney general's office that cast doubt on racial 
preferences in marijuana licensing, said he sees no discrimination 
because minority-owned companies scored lower based on objective 
rankings that considered proposed businesses' security measures, 
horticultural experiences and plans for regulatory compliance, among 
other factors.

"We are supposed to do as much as we can to be a colorblind country," 
West said. "If there's no instance of past discrimination, we 
shouldn't start discrimination now."

Diversity in the marijuana industry has emerged as an issue as 
legalization for medical use has spread to 25 states and the District 
and recreational sales are permitted in four states. An investigation 
by Buzz Feed estimates that about 1 percent of the nation's marijuana 
dispensaries have black owners.

Ernst Valery, an African American developer in Baltimore, said he saw 
the lack of diversity in the marijuana industry as he traveled across 
the country in preparation to put together an application to open a 
facility in long-struggling West Baltimore.

"We went to Colorado and saw kids who were young white males making 
money growing pot," said Valery, whose company did not receive a 
preliminary license. "Young black men have gone to jail for this 
thing. Now that population will have no connection to making money 
off of it legally."

Businesses approved by regulators to grow marijuana do have African 
Americans in roles that are lower-profile.

In Prince George's, a team led by District liquor store owner Josh 
Genderson includes two high-profile African Americans: Ismael "Vince" 
Canales, president of the state Fraternal Order of Police, overseeing 
security, and Donald E. Wilson, the former dean of the University of 
Maryland School of Medicine, as a scientific adviser.

Doug De Leaver, the first African American leader of several state 
law enforcement agencies, is in charge of security for Curio 
Cultivation, but no one on the company's executive team is black. And 
Annapolis lobbyist Frank Boston III has a minority stake in the 
company Green Leaf Medical slated to open in Frederick County, while 
its scientific advisory board is led by a black doctor.

Vicky Ivory-Orem, an African American lawyer and judge in Prince 
George's County whose application for a growing license was rejected, 
said it's not enough to have black players in the industry but that 
minorities should be in the forefront as well.

"What I see in this selection process is the rich getting richer, the 
politically wealthy remaining wealthy," said Ivory-Orem, referencing 
winning applications submitted by major campaign donors and 
politically connected businesses. "There's just no opportunity for us."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom