Bill to help black busi­ness own­ers

State lacks di­ver­sity in med­i­cal pot, law­mak­ers aim­ing to change that

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY OLUWATOMIKE ADEBOYEJO

ANNAPOLIS | Af­ter a four-year wait to pro­vide med­i­cal cannabis to pa­tients, the drug could be avail­able to Mary­lan­ders as early as this month, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try stake­hold­ers.

“I think we could see prod­uct in Novem­ber, with in­crease in De­cem­ber and a steady flow from all op­er­a­tors in the new year,” said Wendy Bron­fein, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for Cu­rio Well­ness, a com­pany in Lutherville awarded two li­censes to cul­ti­vate and process med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

How­ever, racial di­ver­sity in the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try is want­ing, and some law­mak­ers said they are plan­ning to in­tro­duce a bill early next ses­sion to grant li­censes to black busi­ness own­ers.

A dis­par­ity study or­dered by Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan in April and due in De­cem­ber fo­cuses on whether mi­nori­ties who sought a li­cense in the cannabis in­dus­try were at a dis­ad­van­tage.

The study was prompted af­ter the Mary­land Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus raised con­cerns about the lack of black in­volve­ment in the in­dus­try.

Of the 321 busi­ness own­ers granted pre­lim­i­nary li­censes to grow, dis­trib­ute or process the drug, 208 were white men or women and the re­main­ing 113 iden­ti­fied as a mem­ber of a mi­nor­ity group or as mul­tira­cial. Of th­ese, 55 — about 17 per­cent — were black men and women, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion.

“It’s shame­ful in a state like Mary­land where we have one-third of the pop­u­la­tion of the state, one-third is African Amer­i­can,” said Del­e­gate Ch­eryl Glenn, Bal­ti­more Demo­crat and chair­woman of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus.

As the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s Jan­uary ses­sion ap­proaches, mem­bers of the Black Cau­cus told the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice they have be­gun draft­ing a bill that would award 10 new li­censes for grow­ers and pro­ces­sors specif­i­cally tar­geted at blacks who are in­ter­ested in the in­dus­try.

They will move for­ward with their leg­is­la­tion re­gard­less of the out­come of Mr. Ho­gan’s dis­par­ity study, Ms. Glenn said.

“I will bank on it that we’ll come away from the ta­ble with five new li­censes for grow­ers and five new li­censes for pro­ces­sors that will be awarded based on the re­sults of the dis­par­ity study. What does that mean? That means th­ese li­censes will go to, in large part, African Amer­i­cans,” said Ms. Glenn.

A weighted scor­ing sys­tem will give busi­nesses an ad­van­tage of be­ing awarded a par­tic­u­lar li­cense if they have a cer­tain per­cent­age of black own­er­ship, the Bal­ti­more del­e­gate said.

A “com­pas­sion­ate use fund” will be part of the leg­is­la­tion in or­der to make med­i­cal mar­i­juana af­ford­able for pa­tients in Mary­land. The fund will be fi­nanced based on the fees that li­censees in the in­dus­try must pay, she said.

“Mar­i­juana is still an il­le­gal drug, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Your in­surance will not pay for mar­i­juana even though it is med­i­cal mar­i­juana. So what does that mean? That means it be­comes a rich man’s strug­gle. We’re not gonna have that,” said Ms. Glenn, whose mother died of can­cer and is the com­mis­sion’s name­sake.

Mary­lan­ders who are in­sured through the state’s Medi­care and Med­i­caid pro­grams will not be cov­ered for med­i­cal cannabis, said Brit­tany Fowler, spokes­woman for the Mary­land health de­part­ment.

The leg­is­la­tion has been num­bered Se­nate Bill 1 and House Bill 2, and should gain ini­tial ap­proval as an emer­gency bill dur­ing a joint hear­ing by the House and the Se­nate dur­ing the first weeks of the ses­sion — which is sched­uled to start Jan. 10 — Ms. Glenn said.

Mem­bers of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus said they in­tend to use the up­com­ing elec­tion as lever­age for the bill.

“Next year is elec­tion year … so tim­ing is ev­ery­thing … I am very, very sure that this is go­ing to be taken care of,” Ms. Glenn said.

Cannabis com­pa­nies have said that the drug is likely to be avail­able to pa­tients this month.

For­ward Gro Inc., the first li­censed med­i­cal mar­i­juana grower, passed the state’s cannabis as­sess­ment this year, said Dar­rell Car­ring­ton, the med­i­cal cannabis di­rec­tor of Green­will Con­sult­ing Group LLC.

Pa­tients will be able to get cannabis in a va­ri­ety of forms such as lo­tion, pills and trans­der­mal patches, said Michael Klein, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Well­ness So­lu­tions in Fred­er­ick.

The in­dus­try has been pro­jected to open to­ward the end of the year, ac­cord­ing to Brian Lopez, chair­man of the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion.

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