A prominent Maryland lawmaker on Monday renewed calls for the legislature to reconvene to overhaul the state’s troubled medical marijuana program in light of a Washington Post report that several independent experts hired to score prospective businesses had ties to applicants for licenses to enter the cannabis industry.
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City), chair of the legislature’s Black Caucus, who has sought more minority inclusion in the program, again asked for a special session to pass legislation halting the licensing of growers and processors expected in August.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) have previously rejected Glenn’s call for a special session, instead offering to support an emergency bill when the legislature reconvenes in January. They appeared similarly unmoved Monday by her latest request.
Maryland’s medical marijuana program has been embroiled in controversies and lawsuits over how regulators chose companies to grow, process and sell the drug.
The Post reported Sunday that at least three evaluators hired to review business applications had ties to the companies, including one whose husband was listed as general manager for an applicant. The cannabis commission says it is investigating these potential conflicts.
Industry advocates have defended the licensing process. But Glenn says the Post report calls into question whether Maryland selected the best companies after an objective review. Legislation to authorize more licenses for minority-owned companies collapsed in the final moments of the session that ended in April, and Glenn has pushed for a special session to finish that effort.
“In order for the state of Maryland to have a clean medical cannabis program devoid of any corruption or collusion or anything, we should just restart the whole process with a new commission, with a new system of evaluation where nothing should be secretive,” Glenn said.
Busch’s chief of staff, Alexandra Hughes, said it’s not possible to have a special session before commissioners award licenses in August because the speaker is recovering from a liver transplant and there are too many other logistical challenges.
“The speaker, and Senate president, too, have a lot of concerns about the way this program has been administered, but we are at a point right now where it can’t happen in August,” Hughes said.
A spokesman for Miller declined to comment.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) overhauled the cannabis commission in August, replacing 10 of 16 members. His office did not respond to requests for comment on the potential conflicts of interest.
The commission last year gave preliminary approval to 15 growers, 15 processors and 102 sellers. But most of those licenses await final approval, with the exception of a grower in Anne Arundel County and a dispensary in Frederick County that are authorized to begin work. No company has been approved to start processing marijuana into medical products.
Several businesses denied licenses have filed lawsuits challenging the process of selecting growers, posing another hurdle for the program.
A Baltimore judge in May ordered state regulators to temporarily stop issuing new marijuana cultivation licenses while a lawsuit alleging that regulators failed to consider racial diversity was still pending.
The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his order and on Friday issued a ruling allowing certain pre-licensed marijuana growers to intervene in the suit.
Patrick Jameson, the commission’s executive director, confirmed his agency thinks that it again can issue licenses in light of the high court’s decision.