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