Md. makes a hash of its med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram

A law­suit raises ques­tions about whether po­lit­i­cal fa­voritism in­flu­enced the se­lec­tion of cannabis grow­ers.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

MARY­LAND’S ROLL­OUT of its med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram has been called “one of the slow­est” of the 28 states that al­low it. Ap­proved about three years ago, the pro­gram is still months away from be­ing op­er­a­tional and that might be op­ti­mistic. The length of time, one would hope, means there was care­ful plan­ning and fol­low-through — but sadly, that has not been the case. In­stead, the process has been tainted by self­deal­ing and com­plaints of racial bias, se­crecy and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.

Get­ting most of the at­ten­tion was Fri­day’s of­fi­cial cen­sure for a state law­maker who was less than forth­right about his dual roles in the state’s push for med­i­cal mar­i­juana. The House of Del­e­gates rep­ri­manded Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Bal­ti­more County) af­ter the ethics com­mit­tee found he had im­prop­erly ad­vo­cated changes to med­i­cal mar­i­juana with­out pub­licly dis­clos­ing his role as a paid con­sul­tant to a prospec­tive cannabis dis­pen­sary. Crit­ics saw the pun­ish­ment as a “slap on the wrist,” but at least law­mak­ers took some ac­tion in re­sponse to un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior.

Equal con­cern should also be di­rected at the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion and how it se­lected the busi­nesses to re­ceive the lim­ited num­ber of lu­cra­tive li­censes to grow and process cannabis. Re­cent rev­e­la­tions in a law­suit brought by two com­pa­nies that were abruptly bumped from the list of 15 fi­nal­ists raise ques­tions about whether po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions may have played a role.

Mary­land Cul­ti­va­tion and Pro­cess­ing and Green Thumb In­dus­tries had been ranked No. 8 and No. 12, re­spec­tively, by a panel of out­side ex­perts ad­vis­ing the se­lec­tion sub­com­mit­tee. The sub­com­mit­tee voted unan­i­mously on July 27 to ap­prove them, but two days later the sub­com­mit­tee’s chair­man, Chev­erly Po­lice Chief Harry Rob­shaw, per­suaded three other mem­bers to re­verse their votes and in­stead ap­prove two lower-ranked firms. One of them pro­posed to do busi­ness in Prince Ge­orge’s County and has po­lit­i­cal ties that in­clude Mary­land Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice head Vince Canales and former state sec­re­tary of health Nel­son Sa­ba­tini as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tion by high-pro­file An­napo­lis lob­by­ist Gerard Evans. The com­pany has said the team was as­sem­bled based on ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise and it never tried to in­flu­ence the com­mis­sion. Com­mis­sion of­fi­cials have said the change was needed to en­hance ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity, some­thing re­quired by the statute le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

Why then were ap­pli­cants not told that ge­og­ra­phy would be de­ter­mi­nant? And how did this only emerge as a con­cern 48 hours af­ter the ini­tial vote? Mr. Rob­shaw’s ex­pla­na­tion that the sub­com­mit­tee ini­tially didn’t have com­plete in­for­ma­tion on the coun­ties in which the ap­pli­cants would op­er­ate was con­tra­dicted in a sworn de­po­si­tion by former com­mis­sioner Deb­o­rah Mi­ran, the lone hold­out in mak­ing the swap, who said the sub­com­mit­tee had all the ge­o­graphic in­for­ma­tion be­fore the unan­i­mous vote.

A spokes­woman for the com­mis­sion told us that al­le­ga­tions of po­lit­i­cal fa­voritism are “false, un­sub­stan­ti­ated, and based on ru­mor and con­jec­ture.” It is clear that more needs to be known about th­ese events, so it is trou­bling that the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice has blocked the re­lease of in­for­ma­tion — in­clud­ing the dis­sent of Ms. Mi­ran, who cu­ri­ously was sub­se­quently de­nied reap­point­ment to the com­mis­sion. We hope the judge hear­ing this case will make clear the need for trans­parency in facts and ac­tions taken by pub­lic reg­u­la­tory bod­ies.

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