Black cau­cus calls for halt to pot li­censes

Leg­is­la­tors de­mand more di­ver­sity be­fore con­tin­u­ing

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Erin Cox ecox@balt­sun.com twt­tier.com/Eri­natTheSun

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.

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