Pubdate: Tue, 23 Aug 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Pamela Wood


Black Lawmakers Say Cannabis Licensees Lack Racial Diversity

The head of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland is asking the 
governor to intervene in the awarding of medical cannabis licenses 
because the selected companies lack diversity, denying minorities the 
opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry.

"I am completely disappointed with the medical marijuana commission 
and the decision that they have made in terms of awarding licenses," 
said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, chairwoman of the black caucus. "Clearly, 
there was no effort at all to factor in minority participation and 
make sure that it's inclusive of everybody in the state of Maryland."

Members of the black caucus and others have raised concerns that 
the15 preliminary licenses for growing medical cannabis and the 15 
licenses for processing the drug, which were awarded this month, 
mostly went to companies led by white men. Lawmakers and some losing 
applicants are mulling legal action.

According to the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, one license 
went to an African-American-led company and two went to companies led 
by women. Some critics note that African-Americans are 
disproportionately prosecuted for marijuana use and now are being 
shut out of profiting from the legalized industry.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus plan to discuss the issue 
with Gov. Larry Hogan during a meeting Thursday.

"We're hoping the governor will work with us to fix this," said 
Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat. "I think this would be a black eye on 
the state of Maryland, and I'm sure the governor doesn't want that 
for this brandnew industry."

Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer said the governor is concerned about 
diversity, but there's nothing he can do about the decisions made by 
an independent government commission.

"The governor's office has absolutely zero role in this process," 
Mayer said. "The legislation was passed under a previous 
administration. Every single commissioner was appointed by the 
previous administration."

The state cannabis commission received 146 applications for licenses 
to grow the drug and 124 applications for licenses to process it. The 
applications, with identifying information removed, were reviewed and 
ranked by Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute 
before the commission voted.

The commission plans to reveal the rankings of the top applicants 
this week, but not the scores or reasoning behind the rankings.

Racial diversity was not a factor in deciding which applicants were 
awarded the licenses. The commission did take geographic diversity 
into account, bumping up two lower-ranked companies in order to 
improve the geographic distribution of the licenses, but did not say 
which companies got the leg up.

Darrell Carrington, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis 
Industry Association, said it was frustrating that so few 
minority-led companies won licenses - especially because scant 
information on how decisions were made has been publicly revealed.

Carrington, a lobbyist and consultant, worked with companies that 
were successful and weren't successful in getting licenses. With the 
amount of effort and money put into the applications, he said all 
companies deserve to know where they stood in the evaluation process.

"It's very simple: The state must immediately release the rankings, 
the scoring and the evaluation tools, or people are not going to have 
confidence in the process," Carrington said. "This is not up to them 
to keep it a secret."

Dr. Paul W. Davies, chairman of the medical cannabis commission, said 
the selections were made without commissioners knowing the identity 
or background of the applicants. He said he's "very happy" that some 
of the winning companies are run by women or racial minorities.

The commission does not have complete demographic information about 
the companies, which will be required to submit annual reports 
listing their minority owners and employees once they are up and 
running, said Vanessa Lyon, a spokeswoman for the commission.

Davies said the panel relied on the independent rankings to remove 
any bias from the licensing process.

"We wanted it to be independent and uninfluenced by the commission as 
much as possible," Davies said. "We're very happy with the way the 
process has worked."

The commission relied on advice from the state office of the attorney 
general, which said race can't be considered in awarding licenses if 
there's no proof of historic discrimination in similar programs in 
Maryland. This is the first program of its kind.

But the law that legalizes medical cannabis in Maryland requires the 
commission to "actively seek racial, ethnic, and geographic 
diversity" among licensees.

Glenn, who was a co-sponsor of the legislation passed by the General 
Assembly in 2013, said the black caucus could consider a legal 
challenge on the grounds that the diversity requirement was not met.

The commission plans to announce the rankings of the top 20 grower 
license applications and the top 30 processor license applications this week.

Dr. Greg Daniel, who had proposed growing and processing medical 
cannabis in Easton, said he's disappointed that the winning companies 
lack racial diversity. His company, Alternative Medicine Maryland, 
did not receive a license and is seeking reams of information about 
the decisionmaking process.

Daniel, an African-American doctor from upstate New York, is the 
majority owner of Alternative Medicine Maryland. Two of his local 
investors also are black, he said.

"It boils down to an issue of fairness," Daniel said. "We have had to 
face many issues in the country ... with regards to lack of diversity 
in housing, jobs and everything else. The state had an opportunity to 
begin to address that concern, and they totally missed the boat."

Daniel questioned why the state's medical cannabis commission 
considered geographic diversity in selecting permit winners, but not 
racial diversity.

"How could the commission consider one type of diversity and not 
another? It gives pause to the process when only one type is 
considered," Daniel said.

He said it's frustrating that so few minorities got licenses while so 
many African-Americans are prosecuted for using the drug.

"Why are we persecuted for the use of it on one hand, then when 
there's a benefit to be achieved from the medical management of it - 
especially when you have black physicians who are quite concerned - 
you cannot be found," Daniel said.

Alternative Medicine Maryland sent a lengthy Maryland Public 
Information Act request to the cannabis commission on Friday 
afternoon, seeking more information about the process, including how 
the applicants were scored, which applicants have minority ownership, 
and any correspondence from politicians supporting applicants.

John Pica, a lobbyist representing Alternative Medicine Maryland, 
believes the commission should have considered race as a factor, 
given that minorities, including African-Americans, have largely been 
shut out of the medical cannabis industry across the country.

"What we saw was these licenses went to major connected players in 
the state of Maryland. ... There should have been some grow licenses 
given to African-American businesses," Pica said.

Some say geographic diversity wasn't achieved, either.

Jim Martin, who was not awarded a license to grow medical cannabis on 
his farm in St. Mary's County, noted that none of the growing 
licenses were issued in Southern Maryland and just one processing 
license was awarded in that part of the state.

Martin said other rural parts of the state - Western Maryland and the 
Eastern Shore - each have more grower and processor licenses than 
Southern Maryland.

He also suspects that none of the winning applicants have a farming background.

"The way they did this is totally not right or fair. There is not one 
blue-collar applicant out there in their decision," he said.

Alternative Medicine of Maryland put together a strong application, Pica said.

"I don't know what else this group could have done to put together a 
winning application," said Pica, who is considering appealing the 
commission's licensing decision in court.

Davies, the commission chair, acknowledged legal challenges are 
possible but believes the commission's decisions will hold up.

"Every step of the way, we've sought multiple legal opinions to make 
sure what we're doing is appropriate," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom