Ce­cil med­i­cal pot grower ranked sixth among ap­pli­cants

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - jowens@ce­cil­whig.com By JA­COB OWENS

BAL­TI­MORE — A week af­ter learn­ing they earned one of a hand­ful of lu­cra­tive med­i­cal mar­i­juana grow­ing li­cense pre-ap­provals, an Ear­leville-based op­er­a­tion now knows that it ranked sixth among more than 140 ap­pli­cants.

When the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion an­nounced its 15 grower and 15 pro­ces­sor pre-ap­proved li­censees on Aug. 15, it said it would not be re­leas­ing the rank­ings. But the com­mis­sion’s se­lec­tions came with some con­tro­versy.

Just be­fore an­nounc­ing its se­lec­tions, the com­mis­sion de­cided to pass over two of the top 15 ranked grower ap­pli­cants in or­der to se­lect a more ge­o­graph­i­cally di­verse group. The rank­ings re­leased Wed­nes­day show that Holis­tic In­dus­tries in Prince Ge­orge’s County and Shore Nat­u­rals in Worces­ter County ini­tially didn’t make it into the top 15 cov­eted slots to grow mar­i­juana. Mary­land Cul­ti­va­tion and Pro­cess­ing in Fred­er­ick County and GTI Mary­land in Wash­ing­ton County were the two ap­pli­cants that origi- nally were ranked in the top 15, but were bumped back to spots 16 and 17. Both Fred­er­ick and Wash­ing­ton coun­ties al­ready had two other higher-ranked ap­pli­cants while Prince Ge­orge’s and Worces­ter coun­ties had none.

Once an­nounced, sev­eral of the dozens of other ap­pli­cants — many of whom paid costly lob­by­ists or pur­chased land ahead of ap­provals — cried foul over the com­mis­sion’s process. Oth­ers be­moaned the lack

of racial and gen­der di­ver­sity among the 30 ap­pli­cants cho­sen. Ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Cannabis In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, one li­cense went to an African-Amer­i­can-led com­pany and two went to com­pa­nies led by women. The vast ma­jor­ity of li­censes went to op­er­a­tions run by white men, many of whom were able to se­cure po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions.

On Thurs­day, mem­bers of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus of Mary­land met with Gov. Larry Ho­gan to lobby him to in­ter­vene in the process and make the ap­pli­cants more racially di­verse. Al­though the 2013 law le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana re­quired racial and geo­graphic di­ver­sity in the pro­gram, the com­mis­sion de­ferred to ad­vice from the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral that race can­not be a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor if there hasn’t been a pat­tern of past dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“Mul­ti­ple top­ics were cov­ered in­clud­ing the lack of di­ver­sity in the re­cent award­ing of pro­vi­sional li­censes by the Cannabis Com­mis­sion,” gover­nor’s of­fice spokesman Dou­glass Mayer said in a state­ment. “While the gover­nor’s of­fice has no role in this se­lec­tion process, Gover­nor Ho­gan made it clear that he shares their con­cerns and would work with them on pos­si­ble solutions go­ing for­ward.”

Mary­land re­ceived 145 grower ap­pli­ca­tions, 124 pro­ces­sor ap­pli­ca­tions and 811 dis­pen­sary li­cense ap­pli­ca­tions. The MMCC com­mis­sioned the Tow­son Univer­sity Re­gional Eco­nomic Stud­ies In­sti­tute to con­tract with third-party sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts from around the United States to eval­u­ate the ap­pli­ca­tions us­ing a dou­ble-blinded process. RESI as­signed unique iden­ti­fy­ing num­bers to each ap­pli­ca­tion prior to eval­u­a­tion and re­view by sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts and the com­mis­sion.

Ap­pli­ca­tion con­tent com­prised text and sup­port­ing doc­u­ments redacted of all iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion such as in­di­vid­ual or en­tity ap­pli­cant names and lo­ca­tions. Once eval­u­ated and scored by the sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts, RESI com­piled the scores and ranked the ap­pli­ca­tions. The scored and ranked redacted grower and pro­ces­sor ap­pli­ca­tions were then pro­vided to the com­mis­sion for re­view and fi­nal se­lec­tion.

Five ex­tra grower ap­pli­ca­tions and 15 ex­tra pro­ces­sor ap­pli­ca­tions were voted on to be pre-ap­proved should any of the pre-ap­proved en­ti­ties not re­sult in fi­nal li­cen­sure. Be­gin­ning June 1, 2018, the com­mis­sion will re­view sup­ply and de­mand and may be able to is­sue more li­censes if nec­es­sary, based on the need.

SunMed Grow­ers LLC, led by Ja­cob Van Winger­den, pres­i­dent of Tidal Creek Grow­ers, an Ear­leville plant pro­duc­tion com­pany that sells spe­cialty an­nual pot­ted plants whole­sale to MidAt­lantic gar­den re­tail­ers, was the sole Ce­cil County li­cense pre-ap­proval re­cip­i­ent.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with the Whig last week, Van Winger­den said he be- lieved his team’s ap­pli­ca­tion scored well de­spite not know­ing its ex­act rank­ing, and added that their agri­cul­tural back­ground was the cen­ter­piece of their ap­pli­ca­tion. SunMed, which in­cludes Van Winger­den and three other grow­ers who work for him, will likely as­sign one grower to over­see the med­i­cal mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion while the oth­ers help run the busi­ness.

On Fri­day, Van Winger­den said his team was “def­i­nitely pleas­antly sur­prised” to find out that it had scored in the top 4 per­cent of all ap­pli­cants.

“There was def­i­nitely some won­der of, ‘ Were we one of the ap­pli­cants that got bumped up?,’ es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing we were the lone Ce­cil County re­cip­i­ent,” he said. “So when we saw that rank­ing, it felt great.”

When asked his thoughts on the con­tro­versy over di­ver­sity of li­censees, Van Winger­den said it was a tough sub­ject.

“I’m not a politi­cian, I’m a farmer,” he said. “For me though, it was an ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive and pub­lic process, for bet­ter or for worse.”

While his gar­den plant op­er­a­tion is lo­cated in Ear­leville, Van Winger­den’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana fa­cil­ity will be lo­cated in War wick at a prop­erty that is un­der con­tract for pur­chase. The plan is to build a 50,000- square­foot, glass- topped con­crete and steel fa­cil­ity, sur­rounded by an 8- foot, ra­zor- wire- topped fence. A se­cu­rity staff will be man­ning the fa­cil­ity 24/ 7 as well, Van Winger­den said.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

Ja­cob Van Winger­den, chief of­fi­cer of SunMed Grow­ers, said he was “pleas­antly sur­prised” his com­pany ranked so high among the ap­pli­cants.

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