Pubdate: Mon, 10 Oct 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Page: 12


Our view: Legislators should investigate apparent inconsistency in
medical marijuana commission's criteria for who gets grower licenses

When the General Assembly legalized medical marijuana in Maryland, it
required the commission running the program to "actively seek to
achieve racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity when licensing
medical marijuana growers." But the attorney general's office advised
the commission that, absent a study documenting racial disparities in
the medical cannabis industry, creating racial and ethnic preferences
was unconstitutional. As a result, the regulations the commission
adopted make no mention of racial diversity.

But the AG's office advised that seeking geographic diversity was
permissible, and the regulations state that "for scoring purposes, the
commission may take into account the geographic location of the
growing operation to ensure there is geographic diversity in the award
of licenses."

Still, when the time came to fill out applications, prospective
licensees were evidently confused about the geographic diversity
requirement - and no wonder; the application didn't actually ask where
in the state an applicant planned to grow the crops. A frequently
asked questions document on the commission's website includes three
entries on the subject. One posted Oct. 13, 2015, said, "The proposed
location is not relevant for purposes of the stage 1 application," and
another from the same day said, "An applicant does not need to
demonstrate that they are promoting geographical diversity in their
choice of premises." The third, posted Oct. 27, repeats the language
in the regulations but italicizes the word "may" and does not specify
whether such consideration might occur in the first or later stages of
the application process.

Months went by as the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson
University, with the help of outside experts in the field, evaluated
the applications using a double-blind process that obscured the
identities of the applicants. In June, the commission asked applicants
for the locations of their prospective operations, but that
information didn't factor into the RESI scoring, which focused instead
on factors like horticultural expertise, security and employment
practices. In July, a subcommittee of the commission voted 5-0 to give
preliminary approval to the top 15 growers based on RESI's

Two days later, the chairman of that subcommittee persuaded three
other members to reverse their vote and swap two lower-ranked firms
into the top 15 for the sake of geographic diversity. The full
committee formalized their decision two weeks later, prompting
litigation from the two companies that were passed over.

The method by which the commission determined geographic diversity is
curious. Neither the state law nor regulations define what that means,
and rather than seeking balance by counties or what most Marylanders
would readily identify as the state's regions, it used a Maryland
Agricultural Region Map produced by UMBC. The map lumps together
Washington, Frederick, Montgomery, Howard, Carroll, Baltimore and
Harford counties and Baltimore City in one region known as the north
central zone - a massive area that included 10 of the 15
highest-scoring applicants under RESI's evaluation. (It also is home
to 60 percent of the state's population.)

It seems unlikely that the General Assembly's interest in geographic
diversity revolved around ensuring marijuana plants would be
cultivated under different growing conditions - particularly since,
for security and other reasons, medical marijuana is almost
exclusively grown indoors. Moreover, the two companies dropped from
the list of preliminary licensees were not the lowest-ranked
applicants in their agricultural region in the For security reasons,
medical marijuana growing operations tend to be located indoors, yet
Maryland used agricultural zone maps to determine geographic diversity
among licensees. original top 15.

But the agricultural zone rubric did afford the opportunity to move
one of the licenses from the north central region to Prince George's -
which, for these purposes, counts as Southern Maryland, a region that
had only one grower among the original top 15. (Another of the
preliminary licenses was moved to the lower Eastern Shore, which
previously had no growers, though Dorchester County had two.)

Prince George's is where the grower location subcommittee chairman,
Cheverly Police Chief Buddy Robshaw, is from. Because of the
double-blind nature of the process, Mr. Robshaw should not have known
the identity of the firm he was advocating to promote, Holistic
Industries LLC, but it happens to be one with strong connections to
Prince George's politics. Its key players include Ismael "Vince"
Canales, the head of the state Fraternal Order of Police and a former
Prince George's police officer with Mr. Robshaw; and Richard Polansky,
the son-in-law of top Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans, who
represents the firm and secured a letter of recommendation for the
company from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. (The letter,
according to The Washington Post, was not part of the application that
commissioners saw.) A distant cousin of Senator Miller is also among
the firm's partners.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus say they will seek to halt the
licensure process to ensure that minority-owned firms are included.
(None of the top 15 is a minority-owned firm.) We share their concern
that a new, multi-million-dollar industry reflect Maryland's diversity
and will be eager to hear ideas for ameliorating the situation within
the confines of the law. But at least the commission was consistent in
the case of racial diversity. Geography was a different story. The
commission told applicants geography was not relevant and then made
decisions based upon it. The legislature needs to investigate that
issue, too; Del. Cheryl Glenn, the Black Caucus chairwoman, already
raised questions about it at a hearing Thursday, calling the
commission's explanation of its actions "laughable."

Our interest is not whether one company or another gets a license that
could be worth tens of millions of dollars a year. The courts will
sort that out. Our concern is whether the process was conducted
fairly, openly and transparently, and the facts as they are known at
this point give cause for concern.
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MAP posted-by: Matt