Black Cau­cus may ‘take a knee’

Leg­is­la­tors want to en­sure mi­nor­ity-led firms part of med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Erin Cox

Mary­land’s Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus ex­pects the Gen­eral As­sem­bly to swiftly pass a bill ex­pand­ing the med­i­cal mar­i­juana grow­ing in­dus­try to in­clude African-Amer­i­can firms.

And some mem­bers sug­gested the pow­er­ful vot­ing bloc should “take a knee” if the leg­is­la­tion is not on the gov­er­nor’s desk by the end of Jan­uary.

Dur­ing a wide-rang­ing public fo­rum in An­napo­lis on Satur­day, Cau­cus Chair­woman Ch­eryl Glenn for the first time out­lined prom­ises she said Gen­eral As­sem­bly lead­ers made about med­i­cal mar­i­juana leg­is­la­tion, which is one of the group’s top pri­or­i­ties.

Glenn, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, said staff mem­bers for House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller as­sured her the bill will be among the first in­tro­duced when the leg­is­la­ture re­con­venes Jan. 10.

She said it will re­ceive an un­usual, ex­pe­dited joint House and Se­nate hear­ing on the first Mon­day of the ses­sion, which hap­pens to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

If that does not hap­pen, some mem­bers said the 50-mem­ber cau­cus — which makes up more than a quar­ter of the leg­is­la­ture and 40 per­cent of the Demo­cratic cau­cus — will not co­op­er­ate with lead­er­ship on any­thing else.

“No one should ex­pect us to have any trust if it doesn’t go the way that we have been told it will go,” Glenn said.

Her re­mark prompted sev­eral mem­bers of the cau­cus, less than half of whom where present, to shout, “We take a knee!”

“We’re not going to go along to get along,” said Del. Bilal Ali, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat. “Les­son time is com­ing up.”

Spokeswomen for Busch and Miller, both Democrats, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Satur­day.

This sum­mer, the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers turned down the cau­cus’ re­quest for a spe­cial ses­sion on the topic, but promised to sup­port “emer­gency” leg­is­la­tion in Jan­uary.

Black lead­ers in An­napo­lis were out­raged in 2016 when the first 15 pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to grow med­i­cal mar­i­juana were an­nounced and no firms led by African-Amer­i­cans were among them.

African-Amer­i­cans make up about a third of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, and the law le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­structed reg­u­la­tors to “ac­tively” seek racial di­ver­sity when award­ing the li­censes. Some los­ing firms filed a law­suit over the is­sue; it is still pend­ing.

Since last year, the Black Cau­cus pushed for an ex­pan­sion of the nascent med­i­cal pot in­dus­try and wanted to cre­ate five new pot-grow­ing li­censes that would likely go to African-Amer­i­can firms. Leg­is­la­tion to do that ad­vanced al­most to pas­sage this year but died with­out a final vote in the wan­ing min­utes of this year’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion in April.

The last-minute and un­ex­pected fail­ure of the leg­is­la­tion prompted a strong re­buke from black lead­ers.

“We have not shirked away from call­ing it what it was, and we felt that, once again, black folks were put at the back of the line,” Glenn said Satur­day.

Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can, di­rected his ad­min­is­tra­tion this spring to con­duct a dis­par­ity study to doc­u­ment whether mi­nor­ity-owned firms face a dis­ad­van­tage in the mar­i­juana in­dus­try. Such a study is a le­gal pre­req­ui­site to award­ing li­censes that take into ac­count the race of ap­pli­cants.

Mem­bers of the cau­cus sharply ques­tioned Ho­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials Satur­day about why the study was tak­ing so long and when it would be com­pleted.

“Please note this: We have to do this anal­y­sis prop­erly, ob­jec­tively, and with­out any in­put from var­i­ous stake­hold­ers,” said Ben­jamin Wu, deputy sec­re­tary of the De­part­ment of Com­merce. “This is not a quick anal­y­sis, this is a de­tailed dive into the de­mo­graph­ics of busi­nesses in the state.”

After re­peated ques­tion­ing by sev­eral leg­is­la­tors, agency of­fi­cials said they wanted to com­plete it by the end of the year, but they of­fered no guar­an­tees.

Del. Nick J. Mosby, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, asked Wu whether any dis­par­ity study un­der­taken by the state found that mi­nor­ityled com­pa­nies were on a level play­ing field with other firms. “Not to my knowl­edge,” Wu said. Sen. Nathaniel McFad­den, an­other Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, said he wanted the study to con­clu­sively show that African-Amer­i­cans did not have a fair shot at the new le­gal mar­i­juana in­dus­try, and he wanted that es­tab­lished be­fore public de­bate shifted to le­gal­iz­ing the drug for recre­ational use.

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