Bill to help black business owners
State lacks diversity in medical pot, lawmakers aiming to change that
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.