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Leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland have introduced new legislation to restructure a burgeoning medical marijuana industry that has come under scrutiny for a lack of racial diversity in Maryland.
The Bills that have been introduced, if passed, would change the membership of the 16-person Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to better reflect the diversity of the state, while requiring the agency to rescore applications for cultivation licenses and give extra weight for black-owned businesses.
Black state lawmakers have harshly criticized medical marijuana regulators for authorizing cultivation operations led almost entirely by Caucasian-only executives, despite provisions in the 2014 legalization law calling for a diversity among growers. They note that African-Americans nationwide have been disproportionately locked up for marijuana offenses, and they say minority-owned companies have been underrepresented in the lucrative legal industry.
The attorney general’s office has previously said state officials must demonstrate racial disparities in the medical marijuana industry or similar industries before offering racial preferences in licensing to others. The cannabis commission is hiring a consultant to advise on whether to conduct such a study and implement the findings.
Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the legislative black caucus, says details of the legislation are still being drafted at the moment. But she said that the 15 companies already approved to grow marijuana would not lose their licenses under the bill, but would just not be able to start operating until additional minority-owned businesses also were approved.
Davies states “To introduce a Bill that calls for dismantling the Commission is not only an insult to the dedication of the Commissioners who have volunteered an exorbitant amount of time to the program, but threatens the quality of the program, and its very existence.”
Regulators have continuously said they hope medical cannabis would hit dispensary shelves by the end of the year. Democratic legislative leaders have yet to take a position on the new medical cannabis legislation. A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has assigned two top aides to help the black caucus address diversity issues in medical cannabis, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bills.