Black caucus calls for halt to pot licenses
Legislators demand more diversity before continuing
The Legislative Black Caucus plans to use any means necessary to stop Maryland’s medical marijuana commission from issuing final licenses until more are awarded to minority-owned businesses.
“We will not be accepting crumbs,” Del. Cheryl Glenn, chair of the caucus, said Friday at a forum in Annapolis.
“Do not think for one minute that anyone is going to move forward without minority participation. It ain’t going to happen,” she said.
The Baltimore Democrat presided over nearly three hours of testimony from African-American, Hispanic and female business owners who were not among the preliminary winners of 30 licenses to grow or process medical marijuana in the state.
The caucus has not decided on a single course of action, but it is weighing filing an injunction against the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, expanding how many growing licenses are available, scrapping the entire application process and introducing emergency legislation to strip authority from the commission.
“This is a fast-moving train,” said Glenn, who was one of the architects of the state’s long-delayed medical marijuana program. She later added that the caucus would primarily rely on political pressure and not the Maryland court system.
The black caucus has 45 members and represents a substantial political force in the 188-member General Assembly. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has promised to do what he can to help, but he has no direct authority over the medical marijuana commission.
Although a state law required the medical marijuana panel to actively seek racial diversity, the commission ultimately relied on a “blind” process that did not. It did give significant weight to geographic and other factors that failed applicants said were discriminatory.
Most of the preliminary licenses to grow or process marijuana went to companies led by white men. More than 800 preliminary licenses to dispense the drug are still pending, and commission Chairman Paul Davies has promised to work with the attorney general’s office to better ensure diversity moving forward.
But the black caucus said Friday that members will stand in the way of any of the preliminary licenses getting final approval.
The promise to fight the process drew some concerns about whether it would further delay getting the drug to patients.
“We have to come up with something that moves quickly,” said Darrell Carrington, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association and a consultant for some companies who won licenses and others who lost. “I don’t know if starting all the way over again from scratch is fair to the patient.”
Baltimore Del. Nathaniel Oaks, a Democrat, replied, “Fairness is out the backdoor already.”
Lawmakers and several advocates said letting other businesses move forward while leaving African-American ones behind — even if they are later awarded licenses — was unacceptable.
Those minority-owned companies, they said, would be put at a disadvantage if they didn’t start at the same time in what’s expected to be a multibillion-dollar national industry. One recent and widely cited report by California-based research group ArcView projects national sales of legal marijuana to hit $21.8 billion by 2020.