Pubdate: Sat, 27 Aug 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Fenit Nirappil


No Black Businesses Received Licenses to Grow Medical Marijuana

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) 
have joined black state lawmakers in expressing dismay about the lack 
of diversity in Maryland's burgeoning medical-marijuana industry.

At the same time, the head of the legislative black caucus is calling 
for legislation to ban elected officials from taking jobs in the 
industry. Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), who was instrumental in 
passing the bill that legalized medical marijuana, said she's angry 
that another leader in that effort later joined a company seeking a 
license to grow, process and sell the drug, without publicly making 
clear his dual roles.

The controversies are the latest snags for Maryland's potentially 
lucrative medical-marijuana industry, which has been plagued by 
multiple delays and missteps since legislation to legalize cannabis 
for medical use passed in 2013.

This month, state regulators cleared 15 companies to grow marijuana 
and 15 companies to process the plant into medical products. None of 
the businesses approved for cultivation are led by African Americans, 
even though the legislation seeks to create a racially diverse 
industry in a state where nearly a third of the population is black.

Glenn raised the issue in a Thursday meeting with Hogan. She pushed 
the governor to call for a special legislative session this fall to 
address minority ownership, perhaps by authorizing regulators to 
award additional licenses to minority-owned companies.

The legislature's next regular session begins in January.

"We are not going to accept licenses being awarded and people getting 
an unfair advantage in this billion-dollar industry with no minority 
participation," Glenn said.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer says the governor agrees that racial 
diversity in the new industry is important but will not call a 
special session. Instead, the governor has deployed his chief 
lobbyist, Chris Shank, and adviser Keiffer Mitchell to explore 
options to address the issue.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission operates independently of 
the governor's office, which has no say in who gets marijuana 
licenses but appoints the commission's members and executive director.

The law legalizing medical marijuana says regulators should "actively 
seek to achieve" racial, ethnic and geographic diversity in the industry.

The commission awarded preliminary licenses based on rankings from 
outside reviewers, who read and scored application materials with the 
names of people involved redacted. The commission did consider 
geographic diversity, moving up lower-ranked applications to approve 
licenses for growers in Prince George's and Worcester counties in an 
effort to ensure that cultivators were spread out across the state.

But the commission did not provide extra weight to minority-owned 
companies, citing a 2015 advice letter it received from the attorney 
general's office that said race-conscious licensing in a new industry 
without a history of racial discrimination would probably be unconstitutional.

After Glenn and other black lawmakers raised concerns, the attorney 
general's office said the commission should not have concluded from 
the letter that it would be wrong to take the race of prospective 
marijuana business owners into account.

Instead, Frosh spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said, the commission could 
have researched whether there is evidence of racial disparity in 
industries similar to medical marijuana.

If there is, she said, the commission would be justified in taking 
race into account.

Coombs said similar efforts have led to the state trying to expand 
minority participation in other new industries, including off-shore 
wind farming and gaming.

"The attorney general strongly believes that this industry should 
reflect the diversity of the state," Coombs said of medical cannabis.

But Col. Harry Robshaw III, vice chairman of the commission, said 
this proposed approach to achieve racial diversity was news to the 
commission. He said the message from the office was crystal clear: It 
was too early to grant racial preferences.

"It's frustrating that somehow we should have interpreted the letter 
differently," Robshaw said.

Coombs said Frosh's office has cleared marijuana regulators to 
develop outreach programs to attract applications from minority-owned 

On a separate issue, Glenn said she is considering legislation to bar 
lawmakers from working with medical-marijuana companies after 
learning that Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) had agreed to 
act as clinical director for one such company.

Glenn says the dual roles, revealed by The Washington Post last 
month, made her "livid" and tainted the process.

"I wasn't pushing for medical marijuana to fatten my pockets, and I 
am disappointed that it is evidently something he was doing all 
along," Glenn said. "It's wrong. It's just wrong."

Morhaim, a physician, says he's not a formal employee or owner of 
Doctor's Orders, which was granted preliminary licenses to grow and 
process the drug in Dorchester County and has dispensary license 
applications pending.

Maryland law does not forbid lawmakers from sponsoring or voting on 
legislation affecting industries in which they work, and Morhaim said 
he cleared his position with the General Assembly's ethics adviser.

Morhaim, who has advocated for medical marijuana for more than a 
decade, did not return a call or email Friday seeking a response to 
Glenn's criticism.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom