Seek­ing di­ver­sity in pot li­censees

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana panel lead­ers set meet­ing with AG on mi­nor­ity dis­pensers

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Erin Cox Com­mis­sion Chair­man Paul Davies ecox@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Eri­natTheSun

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.

“We want to achieve as much mi­nor­ity par­tic­i­pa­tion as ab­so­lutely pos­si­ble.”

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