State med­i­cal pot com­mis­sion to hire di­ver­sity con­sul­tant

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erin Cox

The Mary­land Cannabis Com­mis­sion an­nounced Mon­day it will hire a con­sul­tant to re­view what steps — if any — it could take to im­prove di­ver­sity in the state’s nascent med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try.

The con­sul­tant will de­ter­mine if it is fea­si­ble to con­duct a study of whether mi­nori­ties have been un­fairly ex­cluded from the in­dus­try, among other tasks. Such a de­ter­mi­na­tion would al­low Mary­land to con­sider race when award­ing li­censes to grow, process or dis­trib­ute mar­i­juana for med­i­cal use.

The an­nounce­ment fol­lows the fil­ing of a law­suit al­leg­ing the com­mis­sion im­prop­erly ig­nored race when eval­u­at­ing ap­pli­cants for li­censes, and calls by African-Amer­i­can law­mak­ers to halt the li­cens­ing process.

Nearly all the firms that have won pre­lim­i­nary li­censes are owned by white men.

A state law re­quires the com­mis­sion to “ac­tively seek to achieve” racial di­ver­sity.

The com­mis­sion has said it was fol­low­ing

the ad­vice of the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice when it de­clined to in­clude race­based se­lec­tion cri­te­ria in ap­pli­ca­tions.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice had said it would be un­con­sti­tu­tional to do so with­out first com­plet­ing a dis­par­ity study.

Hir­ing a con­sul­tant will not de­lay the li­cens­ing process, of­fi­cials said. The com­mis­sion ex­pects to award fi­nal li­censes to grow, process and dis­pense the drug in time for the en­tire pro­gram to be up and run­ning this sum­mer.

Plans to hire the con­sul­tant were an­nounced at a meet­ing in El­li­cott City, where the com­mis­sion also se­lected the com­pa­nies that will re­ceive the 102 pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to op­er­ate med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries. The iden­ti­ties of the com­pa­nies are to be re­leased Dec. 9. The panel has al­ready awarded pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to grow and process the drug.

Pa­trick Jame­son, the com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said Mon­day the con­sul­tant will re­view “the whole big pic­ture” of di­ver­sity in med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear what steps the con­sul­tant would take. Jame­son said he was not sure it was pos­si­ble to do a dis­par­ity study on a new in­dus­try.

It was un­clear whether the con­sul­tant would study Mary­land’s in­dus­try as it stands now, the med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try in other states, or re­view data from other in­dus­tries that could shed light on con­di­tions for mi­nori­ties try­ing to get into the med­i­cal cannabis busi­ness in Mary­land.

Del. Ch­eryl Glenn, leader of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus and an ar­chi­tect of the med­i­cal cannabis law, called talk of study­ing the fea­si­bil­ity of a dis­par­ity study “ridicu­lous.”

“It shouldn’t be any ques­tion in any­one’s mind,” said Glenn, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat. “Ob­vi­ously, mar­i­juana is a new in­dus­try for Mary­land. There’s no dis­agree­ment about that. But you don’t have to look at mar­i­juana to see dis­par­i­ties.

“Look at the cur­rent phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try. Look at the is­sues for black farm­ers.

“This com­mis­sion never ceases to amaze me.”

Al­ter­na­tive Medicine Mary­land filed a law­suit in Bal­ti­more Cir­cuit Court last month al­leg­ing the com­mis­sion il­le­gally dis­re­garded racial di­ver­sity when se­lect­ing ap­pli­cants.

Jame­son de­clined to dis­cuss the law­suit but said com­pa­nies se­lected to re­ceive the 15 pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to grow and 15 pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to process mar­i­juana have “sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity par­tic­i­pa­tion” in their ranks.

The com­mis­sion dis­cussed the law­suit in a closed-door meet­ing.

Jame­son also said the com­mis­sion is “highly en­cour­ag­ing” busi­nesses to “en­gage and re­cruit mi­nor­ity own­ers, in­vestors and em­ploy­ees where prac­ti­cal.”

Glenn and other mem­bers of the Black Cau­cus ar­gue that work­ing for a cannabis com­pany is not equiv­a­lent to own­ing a com­pany that holds one of the lu­cra­tive li­censes.

She said Mon­day that the cau­cus would not ac­cept the re­sults of a study con­ducted at the com­mis­sion’s be­hest.

“If they’re hired by the com­mis­sion, then we don’t trust them,” she said. “We don’t trust the com­mis­sion at this point.”

Dar­rell Car­ring­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Cannabis In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, said he would “wait and see” what the con­sul­tant does be­fore com­ment­ing.

“From the dis­cus­sion we heard to­day, there seems to be a feel­ing that it was a fair process,” Car­ring­ton said.

Sep­a­rately, the com­mis­sion said it used a No­bel Prize-win­ning op­ti­miza­tion al­go­rithm to help de­ter­mine which of the more than 800 dis­pen­sary ap­pli­cants would re­ceive a li­cense.

Sev­eral com­pa­nies ap­plied to open dis­pen­saries in all of Mary­land’s 47 leg­isla­tive dis­tricts. No com­pany can hold more than one dis­pen­sary li­cense.

Ten of the 15 com­pa­nies that were awarded pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to grow mar­i­juana also won dis­pen­sary li­censes, Com­mis­sioner Shan­non Moore said.

Mary­land’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram has been among the slow­est in the coun­try to get off the ground. The law first passed in 2013, was rewrit­ten in 2014, and was then ex­panded to al­low a wide range of med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing den­tists and po­di­a­trists, to rec­om­mend the drug.

The state al­lows med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als to rec­om­mend mar­i­juana to treat a long list of ail­ments. It lim­its how many li­censes can be is­sued to grow, process and dis­pense the drug. The prospect of a mar­ket with broad de­mand and lim­ited sup­ply sparked in­tense in­ter­est from in­vestors, who sub­mit­ted more than three times as many ap­pli­ca­tions as reg­u­la­tors ex­pected.

Com­mis­sion Chair­man Dr. Paul Davies said Mon­day that Mary­land would not have been in­un­dated with ap­pli­ca­tions if it had not set up a good pro­gram.

“We have moved as fast as pos­si­ble,” Davies said. “The only de­lay that we have seen is be­cause of our suc­cess.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.