Mar­i­juana bat­tle lines drawn

Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus head calls for changes in law; li­censee de­fends it

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Michael Dresser mdresser@balt­ twit­­dresser

Del. Ch­eryl D. Glenn is co-au­thor of the Mary­land state law that per­mits the use of mar­i­juana for med­i­cal pur­poses. She says that mea­sure needs an over­haul.

Michael Bron­fein is chief ex­ec­u­tive of a com­pany that was awarded one of the state’s 15 li­censes to grow med­i­cal mar­i­juana. He says the law is the best in the coun­try, and no changes are needed.

The two took part Wed­nes­day in a panel dis­cus­sion spon­sored by the Greater Bal­ti­more Com­mit­tee. While their com­ments were cor­dial, their mes­sages showed where bat­tle lines on med­i­cal mar­i­juana are be­ing drawn for the 2017 Gen­eral Assembly ses­sion.

Glenn, the Bal­ti­more Demo­crat who chairs the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus, ex­pressed the group’s in­dig­na­tion that no African-Amer­i­can-ma­jor­ity com­pa­nies were awarded li­censes by the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion.

“We need to re­visit what we did in the leg­is­la­tion,” Glenn said. “We are not go­ing to do this in such a jacked-up way.”

She said specifics of cor­rec­tive leg­is­la­tion have not been worked out, but one so­lu­tion might be to ex­pand the num­ber of li­censes beyond 15.

Bron­fein, who heads Cu­rio Well­ness, said he op­poses the idea. Any ex­pan­sion of the num­ber of li­censes would di­lute the value of the li­cense that his com­pany won. He called the 2014 law that set up the struc­ture of a med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try the best in the coun­try.

“We have a process and we ought to let it play out for a year or two,” Bron­fein said. “We don’t know that we need15. Ten may be enough. ... Let the mar­ket de­cide.”

Cu­rio, which also won a li­cense to process cannabis-based prod­ucts, plans to grow mar­i­juana plants in Bal­ti­more County. Bron­fein, a po­lit­i­cally con­nected busi­ness­man who has do­nated to many cam­paigns, could be a for­mi­da­ble pres­ence in An­napo­lis next year as law­mak­ers debate changes to the law.

He said ex­pand­ing the num­ber of li­censes would be tan­ta­mount to void­ing a con­tract be­tween the state and the suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants.

“You may not like the out­come, but the process seemed to have in­tegrity,” he said.

The com­mis­sion, em­pow­ered by the law Glenn co-wrote, awarded the 15 grow­ers’ li­censes us­ing a dou­ble-blind process in which re­searchers from Tow­son Univer­sity ranked ap­pli­cants without know­ing their iden­ti­ties.

A com­mis­sion sub­com­mit­tee se­lected the 15 pre­lim­i­nary li­cense win­ners strictly ac­cord­ing to the rank­ings. Two days later, the sub­com­mit­tee de­vi­ated from that sys­tem and re­placed two of the top 15 with lower-ranked ap­pli­cants — a de­ci­sion rat­i­fied by the full com­mis­sion.

The chair­man of the sub­com­mit­tee said the panel de­cided that the 15 it had se­lected did not meet the law’s cri­te­ria for ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity. The two com­pa­nies that were dis­placed are now su­ing the com­mis­sion.

Glenn ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the sub­com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion and said the law should pro­vide for more over­sight of the com­mis­sion.

“We cer­tainly need to do some­thing about the com­mis­sion,” she said. “Ev­ery­one needs over­sight.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, whospon­sored the law in the Se­nate, said he’s puz­zled by the com­mis­sion’s rea­son­ing when the re­quire­ments for racial and ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity were in the same sen­tence of the law he spon­sored in the Se­nate.

“It would not make sense to over­throw racial di­ver­sity for ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity,” the Montgomery County Demo­crat said.

Raskin, who is now run­ning for Congress, did not ex­press an opin­ion on how to fix the law. He said he hopes to join ef­forts on Capi­tol Hill to change tax laws that now pre­vent mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries from writ­ing off their busi­ness ex­penses.

Bron­fein agreed that fed­eral law needs to be changed. He said the fed­eral tax code makes the dis­pen­sary level of the emerg­ing med­i­cal cannabis in­dus­try the least eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

Caryn York, se­nior pol­icy ad­vo­cate for the Job Op­por­tu­ni­ties Task Force, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion will be seek­ing other changes to the Mary­land law.

York, whose or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­vo­cates for em­ploy­ment of peo­ple who have been in­car­cer­ated, said she wants the leg­is­la­ture to over­rule a reg­u­la­tion adopted by the com­mis­sion that de­nies li­censes to in­di­vid­u­als who have a felony drug con­vic­tion on their records.

She said that pro­vi­sion de­nies eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties to peo­ple who have served sen­tences for com­mon, non­vi­o­lent crimes such as pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana with intent to dis­trib­ute.

She said the reg­u­la­tion has a dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact on African-Amer­i­cans be­cause they are much more likely than oth­ers to be ar­rested for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion.

“We are, in ef­fect, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for African-Amer­i­cans and the like to have ac­cess to this in­dus­try,” she said.

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