Los­ing ap­pli­cant sues Md.’s med­i­cal pot panel

Suit says reg­u­la­tors il­le­gally ig­nored racial di­ver­sity

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

A third los­ing ap­pli­cant for a cov­eted med­i­cal mar­i­juana li­cense has sued the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion, this one ar­gu­ing the reg­u­la­tors il­le­gally ig­nored racial di­ver­sity when se­lect­ing ap­pli­cants.

A law­suit filed Mon­day by Al­ter­na­tive Medicine Mary­land in Bal­ti­more Cir­cuit Court asks a judge to pre­vent the is­suance of any fi­nal li­censes and start the process anew. The com­pany, led by New York-based doc­tor Greg Daniels, also al­leges reg­u­la­tors un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally fa­vored in-state com­pa­nies and failed to make sure win­ning bid­ders would have the money to ex­e­cute their plans.

The law­suit is the sec­ond to chal­lenge the way the com­mis­sion picked 15 com­pa­nies in Au­gust to grow the drug. Two other com­pa­nies joined to sue reg­u­la­tors for ex­clud­ing their high-ranked ap­pli­ca­tions and el­e­vat­ing two lower-ranked com­peti­tors in an ef­fort to en­hance geo­graphic di­ver­sity.

Mem­bers of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus have pledged to pre­vent the pre­lim­i­nary winners from get­ting fi­nal li­censes un­less more mi­nori­ties are in­cluded. Gov. Larry Ho­gan has promised to do what he can to help, but he has stopped short of call­ing for a halt to the process.

Al­ready, Mary­land’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram — first au­tho­rized in 2014 — is one of the slow­est in the coun­try to launch. The cannabis com­mis­sion is re­quired to is­sue li­censes by the sum­mer of 2018. Un­less stopped by a judge or a new law, com­mis­sion­ers are ex­pected to is­sue fi­nal li­censes early next year.

Law re­quires the com­mis­sion to “ac­tively seek to achieve racial, eth­nic, and geo- graphic di­ver­sity” when is­su­ing li­censes, but the reg­u­la­tors de­cided only to con­sider the lat­ter. None of the com­pa­nies given pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to grow the drug are owned by mi­nori­ties.

Al­ter­na­tive Medicine Mary­land, which said 80 per­cent of its own­er­ship is AfricanAmer­i­can, al­leged the com­mis­sion acted “ar­bi­trar­ily, capri­ciously and un­rea­son­ably” in award­ing the li­censes, which the su­ing com­pa­nies es­ti­mate are worth tens of mil­lions of dol­lars each.

A spokes­woman for the cannabis com­mis­sion said its lawyer ad­vised com­mis­sion­ers not to com­ment on the mat­ter. A spokes­woman for Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian E. Frosh, who will de­fend the com­mis­sion, said her of­fice had not yet been served the com­plaint.

Com­mis­sion lead­ers have said they re­lied on ad­vice from the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice when they aban­doned draft reg­u­la­tions and did not in­quire about, nor con­sider, race while weigh­ing the ap­pli­ca­tions.

An ad­vi­sory let­ter from the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice said the com­mis­sion could not legally con­sider race un­less there had been ev­i­dence of dis­par­ity in the in­dus­try. Later, a spokes­woman from the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice said the com­mis­sion could have cho­sen to ar­range for such a study if none ex­isted.

Com­mis­sion chair­man Paul Davies has pub­licly crit­i­cized the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice for is­su­ing con­flict­ing ad­vice.

The Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus, fu­ri­ous with the lack of mi­nori­ties among the pre­lim­i­nary winners, has promised to make sure the process does not move for­ward with­out com­pa­nies owned by AfricanAmer­i­cans.

Bal­ti­more Del. Ch­eryl Glenn, an ar­chi­tect of the med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram and leader of the cau­cus, said emer­gency leg­is­la­tion will be in­tro­duced when the Gen­eral Assem­bly re­con­venes in Jan­uary.

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