Pubdate: Fri, 02 Sep 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Erin Cox


Medical Marijuana Panel Leaders Set Meeting With AG on Minority Dispensers

Leaders of the state's medical marijuana commission are meeting with 
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh next week to figure out how to 
achieve more racial diversity when the panel awards licenses to 
companies to dispense the drug.

The Medical Cannabis Commission has come under scrutiny because most 
of the 30 companies to which it has awarded preliminary licenses to 
grow or process marijuana are led by white men.

None of the companies that won lucrative licenses in the state's 
fledgling industry are led by African-Americans. About a third of the 
state's population is African-American.

Another 811 applications for up to 94 dispensary licenses are 
pending. They are being reviewed and ranked without regard for the 
identity of the applicants.

Commission Chairman Paul Davies said Thursday that he and executive 
director Patrick Jameson will discuss with Frosh legal ways to assure 
racial diversity among those winners.

"We want to achieve as much minority participation as absolutely 
possible," Davies said.

A spokeswoman for Frosh confirmed the meeting. It follows comments 
from the Democratic attorney general's office that the commission 
could have done more to achieve racial diversity in the first place.

Davies released a letter Thursday defending the commission for not 
taking race into account when it awarded15 preliminary licenses for 
growers and 15 preliminary licenses for processors last month.

The law that allowed the creation of a medical marijuana industry in 
the state directed officials to consider applicants' race when 
weighing license applications. But an assistant attorney general 
advised last year that considering race or ethnicity would be 
unconstitutional, and the commission dropped the requirement.

In a letter to Del. Christopher R. West, Assistant Attorney General 
Kathryn M. Rowe suggested that considering race or ethnicity would be 
constitutional only to remedy past discrimination against minorities 
in the medical marijuana business.

The commission received 146 applications for licenses to grow medical 
cannabis and 124 applications for licenses to process it.

The applications - with companies' identifying information removed - 
were reviewed and ranked by Towson University's Regional Economic 
Studies Institute before being sent to the commission. Commissioners 
then reviewed and voted on the applications, still with companies' 
identifying information redacted.

Those that were awarded preliminary licenses now must pay large 
licensing fees to the state and undergo a series of inspections 
before obtaining licenses to operate.

Davies said Thursday that the commission was under pressure to get 
medical marijuana to patients, and developing a method to take racial 
diversity into account could have delayed the process by as much as 12 months.

"We were forced to take out any minority weighting," he said. "We 
didn't really have a basis to develop a study."

The law said the commission should "actively seek to achieve" racial, 
ethnic and geographic diversity. In the end, the commission 
considered only geography after ranking the applications on their merits.

That approach drew criticism from minority applicants who did not 
secure a license, as well as concern from the Legislative Black 
Caucus, Frosh, and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the black 
caucus, has asked Hogan to see what he can do to improve diversity 
among licensees.

She said the caucus would consider a legal challenge on the grounds 
that the law's diversity requirement was not met.

Losing applicants are also considering lawsuits.

A Hogan spokesman said Thursday that two of the governor's aides - 
Keiffer Mitchell and Christopher Shank - were assisting the black 
caucus with their concerns.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom