At the beginning of the legislative session, Maryland lawmakers introduced House Bill 2 (HB 2) which mandates certain changes to the current state medical marijuana commission’s operations and structure. The bill also includes several different provisions to encourage an increase in the number of minority owned businesses in the industry.
Governor Larry Hogan ordered a disparity study in January. This study determined that minorities and women lack representation in the medical marijuana industry. As of now, there is only one cannabis processing company owned by minorities that is licensed in Maryland.
Maryland lawmakers were hopeful that a certain portion of the medical marijuana licenses issued by the state would be set aside for minority ownership. However, Attorney General Brian Frosh advised that such a plan would open the state up for lawsuits and violate the state’s constitution.
Governor Hogan also added that reserving licenses for minorities leaves the state exposed to litigation from white businesses owners who be denied permits.
The governor told local media, “You can’t throw those guys out or the state will be subject to lawsuits from all of them, but if they can find a way to broaden it and be more inclusive, we are all for it.”
The Legislative Black Caucus’ chairperson, Baltimore City Delegate Cheryl Glenn stated, “We have a litany of people who are ready to apply for those licenses, who have the money to get these businesses up and running.”
Currently, Glenn suffers from arthritis and uses medical marijuana to treat her condition. She believes that the long road, with its many obstacles, is worth it in order to diversity the industry.
“I think we are going to finish the session with a product I’m going to be satisfied with,” Glenn stated.
House Bill 2
HB 2 directs changes to the structure and operations of the state medical marijuana commission, and also includes numerous provisions to encourage minority involvement in the marijuana industry. This will be accomplished by increasing the number of commissioners to eight. In addition, the racial and ethnic diversity of the state should be reflected in the board’s membership. Finally, members of the commission are forbidden from having a financial interest in the marijuana industry.
Outreach programs will also be crafted under the new regulations that require the newly diversified commission to perform outreach to current minority-owned businesses. They will inform these businesses who to participate in the cannabis industry.
Training programs for cannabis industry jobs will also be created to assist minorities in breaking through to obtain jobs in the cannabis industry. The state’s Department of Labor division will identify job opportunities for minorities and ex-offenders. With these measures in place, legislators hope that more minorities will be represented in the cannabis industry.
The bill also contains a Compassionate Use Fund for increased access to medical marijuana for patients. Administered by the commission, the fund would provide discounted or free cannabis to patients in need. They must first prove eligibility in order to receive the funds.
HB 2 Passes Maryland’s General Assembly
After many amendments were made to HB 2, legislators in the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB 2. The bill was then sent to the Senate where it was debated and more amendments to the bill were added.
Lawmakers worked late into the evening on the last day of the legislative session in order to receive final approval by the General Assembly. The medical marijuana measure increased the number of licenses approved for growers from 15 to as many as 22. In addition, two companies that sued the state over the licensing process were issued licenses with four additional licenses up for grabs. The bill also increased the number of marijuana processor licenses from 15 up to 28.
The bill is an aim to help minority-owned companies take steps to obtain these licenses. Earlier this year, Governor Hogan ordered a study to look at obstacles faced by minorities entering similar industries in the past. After the study concluded, state consultants determined that there is enough proof to conclude that minorities are at a disadvantage in Maryland’s fledgling medical marijuana industry.
Before the study, the state had issued 15 growers licenses, but none of them were to minority-owned businesses. To increase the number of minority licenses issued, the General Assembly is considering a bill that would require the commission to take an applicant’s race into consideration before issuing five new licenses.
The governor’s office released the consultant’s findings on Wednesday. The April study and its findings are a key step toward allowing officials to weigh race when awarding any new licenses.
Sharesse Churchill, spokesperson for the governor’s office, stated, “Today’s findings are clear and unequivocal evidence that there is a disparity in the medical cannabis industry. This study is an important part of the process to allow for increased minority participation in our state.”
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, chairperson of the Legislative Black Caucus, believes that this is a step in the right direction towards having diversity in a growing multibillion-dollar industry.
Civil rights advocates found the lack of licenses awarded to any black-owned businesses galling due to the disproportionately number of African-Americans who have faced consequences from the criminalization of marijuana.
Since medical marijuana was legalized in December, growers have struggled to meet the demand of some 19,000 registered patients.