Race doesn’t al­ways have to be an is­sue

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

From the mo­ment that Mary­land’s pre­lim­i­nary med­i­cal mar­i­juana grower and pro­ces­sor li­censes were an­nounced last month, we knew that the de­ci­sion of the state com­mis­sion would ruf­fle some feath­ers — af­ter all, at stake are lu­cra­tive busi­ness li­censes and likely po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

The state law that es­tab­lished the Mary­land med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram — writ­ten by the elected mem­bers of the Mary­land State Se­nate and House of Del­e­gates — re­quired that the pro­gram’s li­censees have ge­o­graphic and racially di­ver­sity.

But is there any rea­son for ei­ther stip­u­la­tion other than pan­der­ing to po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers?

The com­mis­sion con­sulted with the Mary­land Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral on whether racial di­ver­sity was nec­es­sary in the li­cens­ing, and an as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral con­cluded that since no his­tory of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion ex­isted in the in­dus­try, it was not nec­es­sary to en­sure racial di­ver­sity in li­cens­ing.

To be as im­par­tial and ob­jec­tive as pos­si­ble, ap­pli­cants sub­mit­ted lengthy back­ground doc­u­ments and ques­tion­naire an­swers to the com­mis­sion in a “dou­ble-blind” sys­tem, rel­e­gat­ing each ap­pli­cant to only a ID num­ber. Those ap­pli­ca­tions were then scored by Towson Univer­sity’s Re­gional Eco­nomic Stud­ies In­sti­tute, which re­viewed more than 1,000 ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing 145 to grow cannabis plants. Ev­ery­one was im­pressed by the mas­sive scale of the pro­fes­sional oper­a­tion.

That is un­til the com­mis­sion an­nounced its 15 se­lec­tions for each type of li­cense.

The Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus was quick to point out that none of the top-ranked ap­pli­cants were led by mi­nori­ties and cried foul.

“This is a good mod­ern-day civil rights fight,” said Del­e­gate Ch­eryl Glenn, cau­cus chair­woman. Huh? We must have missed the part where an ages-long pat­tern of dis­crim­i­na­tion di­min­ished an African Amer­i­can’s abil­ity to sell med­i­cal mar­i­juana in the state. Wait, no one has been legally al­lowed to cur­rently grow, process or sell med­i­cal mar­i­juana? Then this com­plaint can only be seen as po­lit­i­cal fa­voritism out to gain some lu­cra­tive sup­port.

In an at­tempt to gain “ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity,” the com­mis­sion also chose to pass over two of the top 15 ranked ap­pli­cants in or­der to se­lect two lower ranked ones in coun­ties with­out a se­lec­tion. As ex­pected, how­ever, one of those passed over, Bethesda-based GTI Mary­land, sued the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion last week over that de­ci­sion, ar­gu­ing the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing process was “il­log­i­cal, opaque and fa­tally flawed.”

GTI rightly ar­gues that it should have been given the op­por­tu­nity to move its oper­a­tion to a dif­fer­ent county if re­quired by law — as other ap­pli­cants have since de­cided to do af­ter be­ing named a pre­lim­i­nary li­censee — but we ques­tion why it has to move at all.

Does it mat­ter where the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana is grown, other than po­lit­i­cal pan­der­ing yet again?

The re­al­ity is that the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try is rare ground — an un­tainted in­dus­try that can and should be formed free of pre­con­ceived no­tions about who can play. We should choose those with the great­est ex­per­tise and merit to grow the plants that will be turned into safe medic­i­nal prod­ucts.

And we should choose those peo­ple with­out con­sid­er­ing the color of their skin or where they choose to grow their crop. To do oth­er­wise is sim­ply fa­voritism dis­guised as dis­crim­i­na­tion.

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