Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday ordered a study of racial disparities in the state’s medical marijuana industry, the first step to justifying preferences for minority-owned businesses.
His move follows the collapse of legislative negotiations to diversify the industry after a furor over regulators awarding 15 preliminary cultivation licenses last year to a group of mostly white-owned companies.
A bill to give minority-owned groups a shot at five additional licenses failed in the General Assembly session that ended April 11.
Lawmakers have talked about reconvening in a special session to try again to pass a bill, but the Democratic presiding officers of both chambers have been in a standoff over whether to do that, based on issues unrelated to racial diversity.
Hogan (R) ordered the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs to work with other agencies to complete a disparity study “as expeditiously as possible.”
“As the issue of promoting diversity is of great importance to me and my administration, your office should begin this process immediately in order to ensure opportunities for minority participation in the industry,” the governor wrote.
The 2014 law legalizing medical marijuana instructed the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to seek to achieve racial and ethnic diversity among marijuana growers. But commissioners did not consider the race of applicants, citing advice from the attorney general’s office that evidence of racial disparities is necessary in order for such a preference to pass constitutional muster.
State lawmakers, especially members of the Legislative Black Caucus, have blasted the commission for dropping the issue of racial diversity rather than trying to find alternative options.
Marijuana growing centers are set to open as early as the summer, paving the way for patient access to the drug this fall.