Medical marijuana regulators on Thursday released a letter criticizing Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) for what they called conflicting information about whether the state should consider racial diversity when awarding licenses to prospective cannabis businesses.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is facing outrage from policymakers and some prospective companies because minorities lead few of the 30 businesses that the commission approved to grow and process marijuana for medical purposes.
The state law legalizing medical marijuana in Maryland requires the commission to “actively seek to achieve” racial and ethnic diversity in the industry.
But regulators ultimately decided against giving preferences to minority applicants, citing a 2015 advice letter from the attorney general’s office that said such a move would be unconstitutional unless there was a demonstrated history of racial disparities in the industry.
In recent weeks, Frosh and his office have backed away from that letter, telling The Washington Post that the commission had ways to take race into account after all.
Officials in the attorney general’s office said it would be possible to justify racial preferences if the commission conducted a study showing racial disparities in industries similar to medical marijuana.
The letter to Frosh from Paul Davies, chairman of the cannabis commission, said the attorney general’s office did not propose such “novel remedies” when it warned against race-conscious licensing.
“The Commission is committed to seeking and promoting racial diversity and minority inclusion,” the letter said. “We believe that diversity is in the best interest of the industry and an important responsibility.”
Davies told the Baltimore Sun on Thursday that he was planning to meet with Frosh to discuss ways to increase racial diversity when awarding as many as 94 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries. Frosh’s office confirmed a meeting next Tuesday but declined to comment on the letter.
The lack of minority involvement in the nascent industry has prompted threats of legal challenges and proposals for legislation that would offer ways to include more minority-owned businesses.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has assigned two top staffers to look at ways to address the issue.