Cannabis board draws more crit­i­cism over li­censes

Leader of black cau­cus an­gry at plan to move ahead with pick­ing dis­pen­saries

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erin Cox

The leader of the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s black cau­cus was out­raged Fri­day that med­i­cal mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tors plan to choose com­pa­nies to dis­pense the drug while the state’s se­lec­tion process is mired in con­tro­versy.

Black law­mak­ers felt they al­ready had grounds for a civil rights fight be­cause firms owned by African-Americans did not win any of the 15 pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to grow mar­i­juana. The de­ci­sion to is­sue pre­lim­i­nary li­censes for dis­pen­saries be­fore ad­dress­ing that prob­lem drew Baltimore Del. Ch­eryl Glenn’s re­buke.

“It’s un­be­liev­able to me that the com­mis­sion would move for­ward on any­thing when they know all of their de­ci­sions to date are un­der com­plete scru­tiny,” said Glenn, chair of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus. “Why move for­ward and cre­ate more con­fu­sion and dis­cord with ad­di­tional li­censes?”

Vanessa Lyon, spokes­woman for the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion, pointed out that no fi­nal li­censes have been is­sued.

She said the com­mis­sion did not con­sider halt­ing the process and is “com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that qual­i­fy­ing pa­tients, the sick and suf­fer­ing of Mary­land, are pro­vided with a process to re­ceive the most safe and

ef­fec­tive medicine in the timeli­est man­ner pos­si­ble.”

Glenn, a Demo­crat, said she looks for­ward to the start of the Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion in Jan­uary. She plans to in­tro­duce emer­gency leg­is­la­tion that would dis­man­tle and re­place the cur­rent com­mis­sion.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller, both Democrats, de­clined to com­ment.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Ho­gan, said pre­lim­i­nary med­i­cal mar­i­juana li­cense de­ci­sions “are in the hands of this in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion and the le­gal sys­tem.”

The cur­rent med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram was cre­ated in 2014, be­fore Ho­gan was elected.

Dar­rell Car­ring­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Cannabis In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion is pleased the dis­pen­sary li­censes will be awarded. He said there is still “a way in which we can make sure there is fair­ness and di­ver­sity in the pro­gram.”

Three com­pa­nies are chal­leng­ing some of the com­mis­sion’s ear­lier de­ci­sions in court.

One com­pany that lost out on a po­ten­tial grower li­cense filed a law­suit over the lack of di­ver­sity among win­ners.

Two other com­pa­nies ex­cluded from the list of po­ten­tial grow­ers have filed a sep­a­rate law­suit al­leg­ing that the com­mis­sion im­prop­erly weighted geo­graphic di­ver­sity.

Amid the con­tro­versy, hun­dreds of ap­pli­cants hop­ing to open dis­pen­saries are wait­ing.

More than a year ago, 882 ap­pli­ca­tions were filed to op­er­ate one of about 100 dis­pen­saries le­gal­ized in the state. Some com­pa­nies have had to pay tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to hold on to real es­tate for po­ten­tial fa­cil­i­ties. Oth­ers have lost in­vestors and many are run­ning low on pa­tience.

“It’s a lot of stress for many of the groups that are wait­ing for a de­ci­sion,” Car­ring­ton said. “In­vestors like their money to make them money. They don’t like it to sit in an es­crow ac­count for a year.”

The com­mis­sion said Thurs­day evening that it plans to an­nounce dis­pen­sary li­cense win­ners Dec. 9.

What should have been a mile­stone in Mary­land’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram was in­stead met with skep­ti­cism.

“I’m thrilled. And I’ll be­lieve it when I see it,” said Me­gan Rogers, co-chair of the Women Grow busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion and a dis­pen­sary ap­pli­cant.

“We’ve been send­ing our team emails ev­ery three months, up­dat­ing them on noth­ing,” she said. “Win or lose, we’re go­ing to cel­e­brate once the pre­lim­i­nary li­censes are is­sued. I mean, win, lose or draw, our team is happy that some­one is get­ting a li­cense.”

Fi­nal dis­pen­sary li­censes will not be is­sued un­til the med­i­cal mar­i­juana com­mis­sion con­ducts a more de­tailed re­view of each com­pany’s abil­ity to de­liver on their prom­ises. That process could take sev­eral months.

“Been a long time to get­ting here,” said Gary Mangum, pres­i­dent of For­wardGro. Mangum’s com­pany re­ceived a pre­lim­i­nary li­cense to grow cannabis.

He said it will be at least two months be­fore his com­pany is ready to ask the com­mis­sion to is­sue a fi­nal grower li­cense. He said he’ll need dis­pen­saries ready to sell med­i­cal mar­i­juana, so he’s pleased the com­mis­sion’s mov­ing for­ward.

“It’s in the best in­ter­est of the pa­tients,” he said. “These busi­nesses get­ting open are the only way we ul­ti­mately get the medicine to pa­tients.”

The com­mis­sion ini­tially ex­pected to award all pre­lim­i­nary li­censes by Fe­bru­ary 2016.

Pre­lim­i­nary grower and pro­ces­sor li­censes were is­sued in Au­gust.

The de­lay was par­tially caused by the vol­ume of ap­pli­cants, which was more than three times what the com­mis­sion ex­pected.

Each of the more than 120-part ap­pli­ca­tions was re­viewed and scored by a team of ex­perts as­sem­bled by Tow­son Univer­sity’s Re­gional Eco­nomic Stud­ies In­sti­tute.

That process has also come un­der scru­tiny be­cause the com­mis­sion has de­clined to re­lease the in­di­vid­ual scores for each ap­pli­ca­tion. Only the rel­a­tive rank­ing of the top ap­pli­cants has been pub­licly re­vealed.

John Pica is an at­tor­ney for Al­ter­na­tive Medicine Mary­land, one of the com­pa­nies su­ing the com­mis­sion over di­ver­sity con­cerns.

He said even though the com­pany wants to shut down the process, its stake­hold­ers are ea­ger to see who wins dis­pen­sary li­censes — and whether own­ers of those busi­nesses re­flect Mary­land’s di­ver­sity.

Peo­ple are “anx­ious to see what hap­pens with the dis­pen­saries,” Pica said. “Peo­ple are also anx­ious to see what hap­pens in court.”

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